When tea tribes go to war (a mug is all that you can score)

This is likely to be remembered as the year in which some of the UK’s most beloved tea brands found their voices.

Who stands to gain when tea brands attack each other, asks Matt Hubbard
Who stands to gain when tea brands attack each other, asks Matt Hubbard

Whether sticking up for each other through politically charged Twitter storms or expressing #solidaritea with the Black Lives Matter movement, brands such as PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea have become renowned for their openness on social media.

However, have the big-hitters of the Tea Twitter world turned on each other?

Promoting its new fully plant-based and biodegradable tea bags – which it claims to be the only major tea-brand in possession of – PG took the bold move of calling out old friend Yorkshire Tea, as well as rivals Tetley and Twinings.

Was this a smart play? In terms of engagement, it looks like it's paid off.

The message to consumers is clear: until PG’s rivals drop the plastic, you need to switch to a brand that already has.

The series of tweets that have followed since the first #MaketheSwitch call on 1 September has performed well – most recently, a post that referenced a BBC deep-dive into the contents of an average tea bag was retweeted nearly 400 times and received well over 2,000 likes.

On the flipside, has this confrontational approach opened PG up to counter-attack - not only by die-hard Tetleyists, but to criticism from their own loyalists too?

One user lambasted the brand for “calling out competitors without having done any research” after Yorkshire Tea fired back an article about their own plant-based alternatives (apparently, a fifth of YT tea bags are fully biodegradable).

Meanwhile, hard-hitting customer stories of finding multiple biodegradable tea bags being grotesquely stuck together within the box were numerous in the mentions, suggesting that not every one of PG’s 37,900 Twitter followers are enamoured of the environmental move.

However, it seems as though the risk has paid off for PG.

Rather than face probing questions from their rivals – which could point to the fact that there are a few holes to be poked in PG’s green manifesto – the #MaketheSwitch movement has actually given other brands the opportunity to highlight their own aspirations when it comes to sustainability.

By ‘@ing’ their rivals, the PG team have managed to stir up a healthy debate around environmentalism across the Twitterverse – or at least the tea-drinking corner of it.

Users who had no notion of their brew’s commitment to the green cause appear engaged, and the degree to which each brand states and fulfills its environmental ambitions appears to be a genuine selling point for some consumers.

What first appears to be an aggressive brand-on-brand tactic has actually opened up a discussion across the industry.

The provocative call-out has driven high engagement rates, while each brand has been given the platform to voice their own green commitments.

And in doing so, PG Tips has ensured it sits at the top of the pile.

As more and more brands go down the ‘shaming’ route when it comes to ethical and environmental issues, it’s encouraging to see brands embrace the sustainability challenges before them and drive progress when it comes to environmentalism.

Matt Hubbard is an account manager at Third City

Thumbnail credit: Getty 

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