Monday, April 16, 2007

Constant Comment: Blogging at Bigelow Tea

April 9th was apparently just another normal day on Bigelow Tea's blog. Dean told about how Bigelow cleans its tea-bag making equipment each spring. ("Not all tea companies take such a proactive approach...") 3 comments.

April 10th started innocuously enough, as well, with recipes for muffins made with Pomegranate Pizzazz and cake made with Tasty Tangerine. (The Tasty Tangerine cake sounded really good.) 0 comments.

By early afternoon on the 10th, however, there was trouble brewing for Bigelow.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who had their TV turned on for more than a nanosecond last week. After all, not only is Bigelow the makers of "Constant Comment" (and other teas), it was, until it was canceled last week, a sponsor of Don Imus' talk show.

So Bigelow Tea found itself right smack dab in the middle of a pretty big tempest in a pretty big teapot.

In her blog entries, Bigelow co-president Cindi Bigelow - and doesn't it just tell you something about a family-owned business that they have co-presidents - dealt pretty candidly with the Imus brouhaha (brewhaha?).

She wrote about where they were in their process. At the time, Bigelow had not necessarily made any up or down decision on advertising, but did - of course : what else could you say?- condemn the comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Further, she reaffirmed her commitment to continue as a participant in a long-scheduled Imus radiothon to raise money for a number of children's health related charities.

One of Cindi's posts inspired 133 comments which predictably ran the gamut: 1) how can you NOT support Imus, I'll never buy your tea again; 2) I never realized you ran ads on Imus, I'll never buy your tea again;  3) I never realized you ran ads on Imus, but I love your tea so thanks for taking them off; and 4) I used to watch Imus, I don't drink your tea, but I will now.... In other words, a smattering of all possible combinations of tea-no-tea/Imus-no-Imus/ads-no ads.

(Apparently, Bigelow got thousands of e-mails, too.)

But what they did on their blog was, I think, pretty well done:

  • They did not shut people down.
  • They did not shut people up.
  • They did not retreat from support for the Imus good works radiothon.
  • They seemed honest and thoughtful in their posts.

Of course, they were spinning. And who knows what the longer term outcome of this situation will be for them. For one thing, I'm sure that there are a lot more Bigelow tea drinkers out there who never watched/listened to Imus but who now feel they know him and wonder just what Bigelow was thinking in advertising on his show. So I'm guessing they take a little hit from this.

But people who like Constant Comment tea like Constant Comment tea.

For Bigelow, in all likelihood, it is just a tempest in a teapot. But I'm guessing that there advertising dollars will be going to sponsor shows that aren't quite the spicy zinger that Imus was.

In any case, I'm going back for that tangerine cake recipe.

From a marketing perspective, Bigelow has a blog that is serving them well. It has interesting posts - like the recipes - that will bring people back to the site, and they used the blog effectively to communicate to their customers during a time of crisis. The blog forum is more intimate and interactive than issuing a press release, and Bigelow Tea is doing a good job with theirs.



First, a brief weigh-in on Imus:  I've never actually watched or listened to his show, but my second hand impression is that he's someone who thinks that because he's on a first name basis with John McCain and John Kerry; does provide a venue for the occasional intelligent conversations on his program; gives a lot to charity; and is not "personally" a racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-semitic bigot, he's got a special  license to use terms that are hurtful and demeaning, if he uses them in a "joking" manner. Sorry, Don, unfunny is unfunny.

Further, his using these terms aids and abets people who are bigots, giving them comfort and permission to continue to embrace these terms (and the underlying thoughts they express) . I don't think he would have been put off the air if there hadn't been such a crazed media-push outpouring and a big rush to the microphone. And he probably shouldn't have been put off the air. That said, if this situation actually puts the brakes on the downward spiral and coarsification of public discourse (especially when it comes to the contemptuous shock-jock treatment of women, gays, and minorities) then it's well worth the Imus martyrdom (which is likely temporary, anyway).

Bigelow Advertising
When I first heard that Bigelow was canceling its advertising on Imus, my reaction was, 'what the heck is a tea company doing advertising on that show.' That was because my impression of the show was that it's listeners were not likely to be tea drinkers.

I mentioned this, over cups of tea, to my old friend Marie who told me that she was, in fact, an occasional Imus listener. Few radio stations, she told me, are available at her vacation home in Rhode Island, but one that is carried Imus. Marie - kind, decent, brainy, thoughtful, middle-aged, liberal, tea-drinking, Worcester girl, wife-mother-friend-volunteer and all round good person; friend since we met on Day One our freshman year at Notre Dame Academy; that Marie - is a political junkie, and if Imus had a politician on, or a pundit, or a Tim Russert, Maureen Dowd, David Gregory type on, Marie listened in.

Sometimes he's a jerk, Marie told me, but he did have interesting people on his show.

So, if Marie listened to Imus, he must have some redeemable value; and Bigelow must have been spot-on in advertising on the show.

While we had this conversation, we were finishing up lunch in a restaurant and the tea we were drinking was, indeed, from Bigelow.

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