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You’re shouting at tea! Brand damage by association, or a storm in a teacup?

28th Feb 2020

Is there such a thing as bad publicity? It seems there can be, when politics and brands mix uncomfortably – but the right response may still be able to turn things around.

Musicians have frequently objected, with mixed success, when politicians whose views they may not share use their music in political campaigns. Bruce Springsteen told Ronald Reagan (in 1984), Bob Dole (in 1996) and Pat Buchanan (in 2000) not to use “Born in the USA” in their campaigns. In 1988 George H. W. Bush was asked by Bobby McFerrin to stop using “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as his campaign theme song, while Tom Petty caused George W. Bush to back down from using “I Won’t Back Down” in his 2000 campaign. John McCain dropped the song “Take a Chance on Me” from his 2008 campaign after ABBA sent him a cease and desist letter, but took a chance on continuing to use Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again” and Foo Fighter’s “My Hero”, in spite of the bands’ stated disapproval.  President Trump has received objections from various musicians who would prefer to distance their music from his campaigns.

Yorkshire Tea recently experienced an extraordinary degree of backlash after newly-appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, sent out a tweet about taking a break from the budget to make tea for the team. “Nothing like a good Yorkshire brew”, he wrote, and the accompanying picture showed him posing by an enormous bag of “YORKSHIRE TEA” *. Perhaps not entirely surprising, given that he is the MP for Richmond, Yorkshire.

What is rather more surprising is that the Twitter account for Yorkshire Tea was suddenly flooded with often accusatory or even offensive messages after the Chancellor’s tweet went out. Many called for a boycott of the brand on the basis of its perceived association with the Chancellor. “Nothing to do with us – people of all political stripes like our brew” wrote the company in reply to an early complaint. This was not enough to stem the tide of angry tweets, in spite of further denials that the company had been consulted or in any way involved with the photo. One particularly angry Twitter user named Sue complained that the last thing she wanted to do when making a cup of tea was think about Tory policies. She continued in this vein until the Yorkshire Tea Twitter account responded: “Sue, you’re shouting at tea. Please do look after yourself and try to be kind to others. We’re going to mute you now.”

This tweet rapidly went viral, and enterprising parties have already brought out a “Sue, you’re shouting at tea” t-shirt (or tea-shirt). Yorkshire Tea’s call for greater kindness on Twitter clearly struck a chord with many, attracting over 100,000 likes in under 24 hours. The social media manager for rival brand PG Tips invited their counterpart at Yorkshire Tea for a friendly cuppa (brand of tea not specified). Kentucky Fried Chicken, whose own brand was used without their consent in an anti-Corbyn post on the Conservative Twitter account during the last election campaign, sent lunch round to the team at Yorkshire Tea as a gesture of support.

Indeed, the way that Yorkshire Tea has handled the situation may well have turned a potential PR crisis into excellent publicity – an important lesson for any brand owner.

*YORKSHIRE TEA is a registered trade mark of Bettys & Taylors Group Limited

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

Catherine Nursaw
Senior Associate
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Catherine Nursaw who will be able to help. Call +44 (0)20 7242 0901


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