Monday 2 March 2020 6:00 am

How Yorkshire Tea turned a storm in a teacup into a marketing success

Director of strategic communications, The PHA Group

Yorkshire Tea unwittingly found itself in the middle of a Twitter storm last week when the new chancellor, Rishi Sunak, published a seemingly innocuous image of himself “making tea for the team”. The photo featured the brand like a poorly orchestrated influencer marketing campaign.

Soon after, the company was faced with a torrent of abuse as the chancellor’s unplanned endorsement threatened to boil over. A number of trolls took to social media to level their abuse at Yorkshire Tea, under the false impression it was sponsored content. Where other brands may have reasonably chosen to bury their heads in the sand, Yorkshire Tea took a calculated risk and responded to the criticism.

Read more: Yorkshire Tea shocked by backlash to Rishi Sunak photo

“On Friday, the Chancellor shared a photo of our tea,” it tweeted. “Politicians do that sometimes (Jeremy Corbyn did it in 2017). We weren’t asked or involved – and we said so the same day. Lots of people got angry with us all the same.”

Its social media response walked a precarious political tightrope, carefully steering clear of falling onto one side or the other. The company found this balance by highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s past self-connection with the brand under similar circumstances.

Crucially, the tone of its communications and its management of a tricky situation rang true with the company’s ethos and aligned well with the brand’s family business and consumer-facing identity.

Its reaction even resulted in widespread, positive media coverage. Although probably unplanned, it was a great example of a brand making the best of a bad situation, driven by the company simply being human about it. These tactics may not have been received as warmly received had they come from a business with a more corporate profile than Yorkshire Tea. 

A fly in the ointment, however, came when Yorkshire Tea asked followers to “try to be kind”, a likely reference to the mental health campaign #BeKind which became widely publicised following the death of Caroline Flack. It served as a timely reminder that even corporate social media accounts are manned by staff with thoughts and feelings. 

The message was well-intended but may not have gone down well with everyone, some of whom might feel the reference came too soon after Flack’s death. Brands have often been accused of adopting a more corporate or human profile online when it suits them most — and Yorkshire Tea’s response may not have been the best time to do it.

Read more: Chancellor Rishi Sunak needs to step back and rethink IR35

Overall, however, the tea brand’s reaction was largely positive. It drew on a deep knowledge of the brand’s identity and audience, and it was executed with a considered response. 

Of course, the ultimate measure of success in any crisis depends on how the brand’s long-term image and bottom line is affected, something which remains to be seen for Yorkshire Tea. But while it may not have won back all of the keyboard warriors with the response, it has almost certainly earned itself some new fans — regardless of their political allegiance.

Main image credit: Rishi Sunak / Twitter

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