Shows like Disney+'s "WandaVision" or AMC's "Kevin Can F... Himself" are generating acclaim by poking fun at the multicamera sitcom, tapping into nostalgia for the TV format while flipping its structure to produce something fresh. Lipton Tea, the ready-to-drink beverage line jointly marketed by PepsiCo and Unilever, is jumping on the trend with a series of digital ads that riff on '90s comedy tropes with the help of T-Pain, who plays a lively new brand character dubbed "Cousin T."
"Have Some Tea with Cousin T" promotes Lipton's introduction of Southern Sweet Tea, Georgia Peach Tea and Green Tea variants in the South and looks to be lighthearted, drawing on T-Pain's personality as a self-effacing musical artist, content creator — he's a burgeoning Twitch streamer — and family man. Cousin T himself evokes the outsized (and occasionally intrusive) side characters that have animated sitcoms past, complete with a laugh track backing his biggest lines and sight gags. Some installments are 30 seconds and others approach 60 seconds. In each, the character emphasizes which teas go best with different meals, such as ribs with Georgia Peach Tea, mirroring other recent PepsiCo marketing initiatives that have focused on food pairings for its beverage brands.
But the content play, which was developed with creative agency Ten35 and production company Vandal, also signals how brands like Lipton are dipping their toes back into tactics and themes that have been waylaid for months by COVID-19. Each "episode" of the three-part series emphasizes moments of family togetherness, touching on scenarios like road trips or hosting an in-person dinner that have proved risky under the pandemic. The regional push supports a national campaign Lipton rolled out earlier this summer that is built around a return to normal and helping refresh the brand's image.
"The idea of being front-and-center at the moment where families are getting back together … the broader piece is really reinforcing that connection," said Chauncey Hamlett, vice president and chief marketing officer for PepsiCo Beverages North America, South Division. "Part of it is being able to, from a media and a culture standpoint, be somewhat disruptive with an influencer-forward approach."
Lipton is bringing that sense of connectedness to the real world through a contest running in Southern markets that offers participants the chance to win a barbecue with T-Pain catered by a local Black-owned restaurant, as well as a custom grill, grilling accessories and a year's supply of Lipton Iced Tea. Hamlett described the cookout event as "intimate experiential," a concept that brings back the in-person elements of marketing while trying to keep safety precautions top of mind.
"Even before the pandemic, this idea of smaller, curated experiences was something that we heard from consumers," Hamlett said. "It's going to be even more important now as we move forward."
Followers can enter the running by texting #GRILLWITHT to 99888 or by registering at GrillWithT.com, which also features a summer Spotify playlist curated by T-Pain. The partnership extends to the Pepsi Stronger Together program centered on restaurant relief, where the Grammy winner will award six local restaurants with a $5,000 grant donation each.
And while the broader "Have Some Tea" effort is drawing a clear connection to TV history, the content itself is all digital, speaking to how PepsiCo is rethinking its media strategy to account for post-pandemic tastes. Since last year, the marketer has been directing more investments toward streaming and direct-to-consumer channels versus traditional linear media. The approach has appeared to pay off, as PepsiCo on Tuesday reported second-quarter results that crushed estimates, with revenue up more than 20% year-over-year.
"This is an opportunity for us to help modernize the brand while relating to what is familiar to consumers," Hamlett said of Lipton.
"For now, we know streaming is king," he added. "From a media consumption standpoint, I want to make sure that we're where the consumers are, and right now that's digital."