Tetley’s – Heading Smoothly into Obscurity

Poor old Tetley’s. Time was when the stuff was ubiquitous. They once had a thousand pubs in Yorkshire alone and another thousand across the nation with the huntsman’s head logo beaming out invitingly at drinkers.

Back in 1911 they even used Harry Houdini in a marketing stunt. He had to escape from a metal box filled with Tetley’s – only he couldn’t and had to be rescued.

In the 80s Tetley’s grew to be a world leader in the production of cask ale. Even into the 90s they were market leaders in the UK ale sector. Until, that is, the rise of John Smith’s. Sales started to decline in the later 90s and into the new millennium.

They were bought out by Carlsberg in 1998 and the Leeds Brewery, home to the beer of Joshua Tetley since 1822, was closed in 2011 as production moved elsewhere. They’ve still got a notable presence in Rugby League sponsorship, but it’s a far cry from the old days.

As for adverts, they’ve had some interesting ones. Here’s one from the early 90s that sees a man astounding his wife by doing some ironing.

The ad stresses a particular stand-out quality of the beer and develops the copy from that – in this case its smoothness, just as the Boddington’s adverts focused on creaminess, and the Heineken ads concentrate on how refreshing the beer is. It’s one way of positioning your beer in a market that’s packed with very similar products.

And by the end of the 90s we have the ‘Smoothly Does It’ campaign run by Saatchi and Saatchi. The gag becomes the Tetley’s drinker finds a smooth way to find a solution to a problem, whether it’s making his way to the pub through a crowd using his soggy dog:

Or, making sure his girlfriend doesn’t catch the bouquet at a wedding by asking her to hold on to his pint of Tetley’s.

They’re neat, witty ads that ran into the noughties.

Problem was, perhaps, that Tetley’s was being overtaken by market forces beyond their control. And not even the greatest of ads could save them..