Who: Unilever UK Ltd (PG Tips Tea), Tata Global Beverages (Tetley) and the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”)
When: 23 July 2014
Law as stated at: 4 August 2014
A TV advertisement for PG Tips teabags showed two cups of tea brewing, one with a pyramid-shaped PG Tips bag and the other with a round teabag.
Johnny Vegas said to the well-known puppet monkey “Monkey, you know how you always say, “there’s no other tea to beat PG.” What if you’re lying?”
The monkey said: “PG Tips uses pyramid bags, so if we test one against a regular teabag, you’ll see the tea has got more room to move, freeing the great, fresh taste for a perfect cuppa.”
Rival Tetley, through its owner, Tata Global Beverages (“Tata”) complained about the advertisement to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Tata complained that the claim ‘more room to move freeing the great fresh taste’ was misleading as it implied that by the virtue of the shape the pyramid-shaped tea bag provided a better tasting tea. To support their case, Tata provided their own evidence suggesting there was no difference between the brewing efficiency of a round teabag compared with that of a pyramid-shaped tea bag.
Tata also complained that the comparison to round teabags denigrated Tata’s brand “Tetley” as they were a recognisable competitor of PG Tips and were depicted negatively in the advertisement.
Unilever: ad did not claim PG Tips tasted better than Tetley
In its defence, Unilever, owner of the PG Tips brand, said that they were not claiming PG Tips tea tasted better than Tetley, only that PG Tips tea moved more freely during the brewing process.
Unilever provided the results of two tests. The first recorded the impact that differently-shaped teabags, with the same kind and amount of tea, had on the infusion process. These indicated that the pyramid teabag had significantly greater brewing efficiency.
The second test was a straight head-to-head comparison of the brewing efficiency of PG Tips pyramid-shaped teabags as against that of Tetley’s round teabag. This showed that the PG Tips product had the greater brewing efficiency.
Unilever believed these results substantiated the claim “freeing the great taste.” They also submitted measurements showing that there was 77% more room to move in a pyramid teabag compared with a round teabag.
On the second, “denigration” complaint, Unilever argued that the advertisement was not making a direct comparison with Tetley. They said “freeing the great taste” was only intended to refer to PG Tips.
Unilever also pointed out that Tetley themselves owned a pyramid-shaped teabag range and that nearly 31% of regular teabags sold in the UK were round, with Tetley only representing 50% of that market.
The ASA’s adjudication
Regarding the complaint that the ad misleadingly claimed PG Tips was a better tasting cup of tea, the ASA decided that consumers were more likely to interpret the statement ‘more room to move freeing the great fresh taste’ to mean that the teabag would allow more tea, therefore more taste, to be released.
Based on this interpretation, the evidence submitted by Unilever sufficed to see them home on that issue.
Unilever also provided modelling and measurements to demonstrate that tea leaves inside a pyramid-shaped bag are freer to move than when in a round bag.
Consequently, the ASA concluded that the ad was not misleadingly making a taste comparison with Tetley.
On the denigration complaint, although Tetley owned a large portion of round teabags on the market, the ASA held that because there were a number of other round teabag brands available, consumers would not necessarily identify round teabags as a Tetley teabag.
Therefore because the comparison was not made with an identifiable competitor, the ASA did not consider that it denigrated Tetley.
Why this matters:
Subsequent press reports quoted a PG Tips spokesperson as saying that they were “thrilled that the ASA have agreed with what PG Tips fans have known for years; pyramid bags really do make the best cup of tea.”
Whether this is a fair summary of the ASA’s findings is moot: the regulator rejected Tata’s complaint that the ad misleadingly claimed PG Tips to be the better tasting product. All the ad claimed, the ASA said, was that the brewing efficiency of pyramid teabags was greater than that of round ones and the evidence supported this.
A fine distinction, perhaps, but a crucial one that enabled Unilever to neatly sidestep the dangers of comparative claims on subjective matters of taste.
Stephen Groom (Co-head, Advertising and Marketing Law Group)
Hanna Lidbetter (Work Experience student)