Yorkshire Tea took the bold step of asking a customer to stop buying its products after Laura Towler, a far-right YouTuber, praised the brand for apparently not supporting Black Lives Matter.
Although it did not reply immediately, Yorkshire Tea’s Twitter account yesterday (Monday) responded to Towler: "Please don't buy our tea again. We're taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism."
Please don't buy our tea again.— Yorkshire Tea (@YorkshireTea) June 8, 2020
We're taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism.
The exchange then became sector-wide when users began tagging PG Tips in their comments, with one in a now-deleted tweet apparently suggesting that she would switch to the Unilever brand in protest at Yorkshire Tea’s position – while Guardian journalist and left-wing activist Owen Jones joked that he would be switching in the other direction.
PG Tips wrote: "If you are boycotting teas that stand against racism, you're going to have to find two new tea brands now."
Upmarket brand Teapigs also responded, sharing a gif of Meryl Streep cheering at the Oscars, with the message: "Nicely done guys. Make that three."
Towler was named in a 2019 report from Hope Not Hate as one of the UK's most influential far-right YouTubers.
While large numbers of Twitter users posted about the responses of the three brands using #solidaritea, the hashtag goes back to the early days of Twitter.
It is not the first time this year that Yorkshire Tea’s Twitter account has been drawn into political discussions. In February, it responded to fans over perceived links to the Conservative Party, after chancellor Rishi Sunak, MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, posted a picture of himself with a large sack of teabags.
Speaking to PRWeek, Josh Benge, brand engagement manager, social, gaming and partnerships, at KFC UK and Ireland – which also found itself in a political spat last year – said few brands would allow their social managers to display such a "human" side.
While Unilever is generally known as a socially progressive company, cynics might suggest that PG Tips felt compelled by the market situation to take as strong a stand as its rival; Yorkshire Tea last year overtook PG Tips in UK sales. Twinings, which is the biggest-selling brand – having also overtaken PG Tips in recent years – has yet to comment on Black Lives Matter.