Ten years ago, Nigel Holland, then director of marketing for Tetley Tea, briefly became something akin to a national hate figure after he summarily axed the loveable Tetley Tea Folk after 27 years on the nation's TV screens.
Sydney, Clarence, Gaffer and their flat-capped friends had taken their place among advertising's most cherished animated characters and their northern accents had become synonymous with the tea brand.
'I was public enemy number one,' admits Holland. 'Tea Folk are part of the Tetley family and it was a very unpopular decision within the company.'
He decided to ditch the Tea Folk and replace them with productbased advertising in an effort to draw in younger drinkers and shift the focus away from regular black tea (where sales had slowed) to growth lines such as Green Tea and Redbush.
Holland has now opted to tap into the popularity of nostalgic ads and euphemistically 'bring the characters back from an extended holiday'. With brands from Milky Way to Hovis harking back to the past in ads, the public's yen for the retro appears insatiable. Indeed, says Holland, the 'messages on social media sites were becoming so frequent we had to check it out'.
Building on a legacy
Rumours abound that the Tea Folk characters will be 'blinged' and 'pimped up' for 2010, and that Gaffer will have a Hoxton Fin haircut and a smartphone glued to his ear. Holland refuses to comment on the specifics, but says: 'I believe the ads are extremely emotional and people will be delighted by how they are portrayed.' He adds reflectively: 'At the end of the day, the Tea Folk are the Tea Folk.'
The £9m campaign, created by MCBD, will break on 20 September during Coronation Street on ITV. MCBD's managing director, Michael Pring, who was the original account manager for the Tea Folk, is working on the campaign, as is the artist who created the characters.
The success of the activity will be crucial in sorting out the seesaw battle for market leadership between Tata-owned Tetley and Unilever-owned PG Tips. Tetley has regained the lead over its rival, after briefly losing it last year, and is bought by 38.8% of UK households, ahead of PG Tips (32.1%), Twinings (26.6%) and Typhoo (21.3%), according to Nielsen figures from June.
The Tetley brand is worth £148.5m, up 11% year on year. Crucially, sales of regular black tea are static. The growth has come from smaller lines, such as Green Tea.
Holland believes Tetley regained its market lead because of 'the resilience' of the brand, and expects this to be cemented by the forthcoming campaign.
Leadership is something that has most likely preyed on Holland's mind ever since his university days. When studying for his degree in economics, he decided he wanted to be a chief executive.
However, he is unlikely to be guest speaker at a Marketing Society forum anytime soon, viewing marketing as merely a necessary stepping stone to general management. He makes no bones about this. 'I am not a marketer; I don't want to be a marketer,' he says. 'I am a general manager and have always been highly ambitious.'
For someone with such a frank views, it is perhaps surprising that he has persevered with the discipline for so long.
His career to date encompasses marketing roles at Scottish & Newcastle, Kraft and Boots, before he joined the Tetley Group in January 1998, as marketing controller of Tetley GB.
Holland's most formative career experience, like many of his contemporaries, came in the form of classical FMCG training. 'I cut my teeth at Kraft, which was excellent at teaching me the basics and this has always stood me in good stead,' he says.
He admits he has enjoyed good fortune in his career, in particular benefiting from working on brands in their early stages of growth, such as Kraft's Kenco and Boots' Nurofen, his work on the latter brand being, he believes, among his best.
'I am most proud of ([having) left the brands I worked on in profitable growth,' says Holland. 'Also I am particularly proud of the McCann Erickson work on Nurofen, which portrayed pain going around the body, which is still being used today.'
His biggest regret, he says, is not being bold enough when faced with a critical decision, like moving Strepsils into the anaesthetic arena quicker when at Boots.
During his time at Tetley, Holland has risen through the ranks to the role of regional president, UK & Africa. The company has been owned by the Indian conglomerate Tata, which spans the steel, hotels and software markets, since 2000.
There is little doubt that its commercial weight has prolonged and aided Holland's career development. His current role is far-reaching and he spends '20% of his time thinking of all things Africa' as he looks to grow Tetley's fledgling business there.
'There have been far more options for me under Tata,' says Holland. 'It has opened up new opportunities. It is a truly global $1bn business.'
Not only that, he gets to break bread with high-profile figures; at a recent meeting with George Osborne in Mumbai, for example, he asked the chancellor whether he fancied a trip to Eaglescliffe, near Stockton-on-Tees, where Tetley has a factory.
Osborne wasn't fully au fait with Eaglescliffe but was open to a visit, says Holland - but, clearly not wanting to sound out of touch, quickly adds: 'The following week we went to Whitby on a family holiday.'
Holland is good company, clearly ambitious, at times funny - responding to the joke that Don Revie was a failure as manager of Leeds United, he stands up and says: 'Right, that's the end of the interview.'
From a corporate perspective, his no-nonsense, tell-it-as-it-is manner might, at times, be better curtailed; he tells Marketing, for example, that he is a regular coffee-drinker who has tea only on Sunday. Yet few would bet against the 44-year-old rising to be chief executive; his face clearly fits within Tata Group.
Holland's big strategic challenge is to get young consumers wanting to drink tea as 'people take their drinking habits through life'; revenues could also be accelerated by increasing its penetration in London (Tetley's presence is diluted in the South).
There is undoubtedly a lot of goodwill toward the Tea Folk across the country, and consumers will be pleased to see the characters back on TV. Whether Holland's decision is merely a reaction to consumer demand or will translate into sales growth remains to be seen.
If it succeeds, however, he will be lauded as the man who revived the Tea Folk, rather than reviled as their executioner.
1989-1991: Brand assistant, rising to assistant brand manager, Newcastle Brown Ale, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries
1991-1994: Assistant brand manager, rising to brand manager, Kenco and Bird's Desserts, Kraft Jacobs Suchard
1994-1998: Senior brand manager, rising to marketing manager, Strepsils and Nurofen, Boots Healthcare International
1998-present: Marketing controller, rising to regional president, UK & Africa, Tetley Group/Tata Global Beverages
Favourite film: Shadowlands
Football team: Leeds United
Favourite ad: Tango
Last book read: The Free Radical by Tony Benn.