Honest Tea Dips Its Toe Into TV

New campaign from Amalgamated bows new tag

How does a challenger brand embrace mass media without losing touch with its grass roots?

That’s a key challenge facing Honest Tea, as the beverage launches its first TV ad today. The animated ad, from New York shop Amalgamated, features a bespectacled lemon and plastic tea leaves trying but failing to pierce a bottle of Honest Tea.

“We don’t let just anything get into a bottle of Honest Tea,” a male voice explains as the leaves and lemon are repeatedly stymied. “We brew real organic tea leaves add real organic ingredients, and it’s just a tad sweet. Because if it’s not real, it’s not honest.”

The new ad, which will run in four markets, is part of a broader effort that includes billboards, transit posters, online ads and events. The campaign—the largest in the brand’s 14-year history—introduces a new tagline: “Refreshingly honest.”

Like SoBe and Snapple before it, Honest Tea is transitioning from a niche brand to a sizeable player as its distribution grows under the ownership of Coca-Cola. In 2008, when Coke first invested in Honest Tea, the brand was available in 15,000 outlets. That figure has since swelled to more than 100,000 outlets today, said Peter Kaye, Honest Tea's vp of marketing.

So how do you get bigger—through the use of TV advertising, for example—without alienating early adopters, who embraced the your underdog, alternative status? Kaye acknowledged that it’s a delicate balance.

“To me, it’s an evolution in media channels that we’re using, but it is very consistent in terms of our messaging," Kaye said. "We’re just trying to bring it to many, many more people. And there’s nothing like television, with sight, sound and motion, to really tell your story.”

The TV ad will run in four markets (Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Seattle) and appear on the brand’s Facebook page, YouTube and Hulu. Kaye declined to discuss the campaign’s total budget, but did say that media spending alone represented three to four times what Honest Tea typically spends in a given year.

The brand’s media spending totaled less than $1 million in both 2011 and 2010, according to Nielsen. Those figures don’t include online outlays, however.

“Refreshingly honest” represents the first big brand campaign from Amalgamated, which Honest Tea hired in January. Another new shop, Ikon3, handled media planning and digital media buying.