125 years of Tui: ‘Let’s make cheese. Yeah, right’

The legacy of Tui largely owes its existence to the fact that its founder Henry Wagstaff was so bad at cheesemaking that he was fired from the cheese shop where he worked. Given that his questionable fermentation tactics didn’t work for dairy products, Wagstaff took the logical step of applying them to hops and barley instead. As it turns out, Wagstaff was something of a not-so-bearded, brewing Da Vinci and by 1889 his skills had earned him enough money to build the brewery in Mangatainoka. 

Before long, the tagline ‘Make mine a Wagstaff’s’ (the original name Tui went by) became a ubiquitous call throughout the region. In 1903, in an effort to cash in on his hard work, Wagstaff sold all the shares in his company for about a pound a pop. Unfortunately, he would later see the value skyrocket to £40 each.

But as Wagstaff’s tenure came to end, Henry Cowan took the reins and developed much of the imagery that today typifies the brand. In addition to brewing the award-winning Tui East India Pale Ale, Cowan commissioned the construction of the Tui Brewery Tower and also changed the name and logo of the company in 1923.  

Legend has it that in 1931, upon completing the seven-storey brew tower, Cowan’s builders realised they’d forgotten to construct a lift or stairs for the structure. Perhaps they flouted the unwritten rule, most often enforced by drug cartels, and sampled the brown elixir while on the job.

But Cowan did not let this building faux pas impede the continued growth of the brand. For the next three decades Tui trucked along and by 1966 it hit the television screens with its first TVC. This move must’ve caught the attention of the competitors, because only three years later the avian-inspired insignia had become part of the DB portfolio.

Over the next two decades, DB maintained the brand’s identity and used the tower in promotional material as a symbol of the company’s longevity. But then something changed. As Kiwis traded in their bell-bottom jeans for grungy ‘90s denim, Tui unveiled the first ‘Yeah Right’ billboard, an event that would go on to trigger a long-standing Tui tradition of directing sarcasm at almost every aspect of Kiwi life.

And the promotional quirkiness didn’t end. Shortly thereafter, Tui was orchestrating beer heists, employing a bevy of beauties in its brewery and throwing pool parties in a series of tongue-in-cheek TVCs.

This trend extended into the 2000s, but the brand matured slightly with the launch of the ‘Always Something Brewing’ campaign, which recently led to one lucky guy having his house plumbed with Tui by his mates. Now, 125 years after it was first brewed, every time a beer drinker arrives home from a long day at work, he secretly hopes the crisp, golden goodness of East India Pale ale pours out of his kitchen tap.

  • This article originally appeared in the May/June edition of NZ Marketing.

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