Here’s what happens when you give a frighteningly open brief to a strategist. This strategist, Toby Harrison, is a former theologian, broadcaster, and filmmaker. He approaches advertising in wild and wonderful ways. The brief too.
Here is what made it great for Toby Harrison:
What made it great?
Tea, with a monkey.
Our industry is obsessed with new ideas. Fresh thinking. Few things are as universally derided as an idea that has been “done before”. It’s a shame because there can be great success if you are willing to look backwards once in a while.
That’s why going back to an old idea is what made PG Tips great…again.
You might find it ironic that an Englishman would want to talk about tea. However, there’s a lot more to PG Tips marketing campaigns than just tea.
Back in 1956, PG Tips started using Chimpanzees in ads for their tea. The Tipps family ads revolved around a deliciously simple concept plucked straight out of the British vernacular: a chimpanzees’ tea party. The apes were dressed in human clothes, placed in totally ordinary family scenarios and voiced by celebrities. The British public loved them so much that the brand leapt from 4th place to number 1 in just two years.
The Tipps family campaign was cheeky, incongruent and very politically incorrect. By 2002, animal rights groups had lobbied for it to come off air. Despite the longstanding whiff of animal cruelty associated with the campaign, it had run for over 46 years and bizarrely had become something of a national treasure.
Just as the real monkeys were being retired by PG tips, ITV digital launched in the UK with a campaign from Mother starring northern comedian Johnny Vegas, and a woven sock puppet. The Monkey and Al campaign was a huge success. Sadly, ITV digital wasn’t. Financial issues plagued the broadcaster and the channel went into administration.
But here is where things get interesting. Mother believed in its Monkey. So much so that they fought a year-long dispute with ITV Digital’s administrators over the intellectual property rights of Monkey’s character. They were willing to play the long game and it paid off for them.
By 2006, PG Tips had fallen out of the British public’s favour and Unilever called a pitch. Mother was a rank outsider, but its idea was a clear winner: Bring the monkeys back to PG. Just not the chimpanzees.
Mother not only knew how well-loved Al and Monkey were, but it also recognised that the collapse of ITV Digital had robbed the UK of an idea that had plenty more life in it. So the agency simply took the idea to PG and carried on where it left off.
Johnny Vegas (Al) and Monkey were reunited and came bounding back to TV screens with a delightful explanation of what they had been up to during their hiatus. It was an in-joke that everyone was in on, and it worked seamlessly.
While PG’s original monkeys had made the brand famous, they eventually made the brand infamous. However, with Al & Monkey at the helm, suddenly an old idea had new life breathed into it.
If you ask the public what ads they love, more often than not they will tell you something from 5, 10 or 20 years ago. Because strangely, the public doesn’t yearn for the new quite as much as we ad folk do.
So, what makes this great for me is that for once, an agency wasn’t afraid to look backwards and recycle an idea that it knew the public still had love for. Of course, I do believe it is great to make something new. But every once in a while, it can be tremendously powerful to remind people of something they loved dearly.
You can keep your cold-brew matcha turmeric latte. I’ll have a builder’s tea, please.