Even to the most habitual of tea drinkers, tea isn't an exciting beverage. Good, solid and dependable when badly in need of mental stimulation - that tea probably is. But tea simply isn't anyone's idea of an 'image' drink. And while individual tea brands may enjoy a premium image among specific audiences, the beverage, per se, has no badge value to speak of. Meaning, consumption of tea is essentially a mechanical activity, with little 'pride of consumption' in the drinker's heart. Or mind.
Such is the problem that the Tea Board of India is wrestling with, in the face of declining domestic consumption of tea. Of course, the pressure on the export of Indian tea is also increasing, but that's a different story. And anyway, close to three-quarters of India's produce is consumed locally, so the battle for the Indian consumer assumes greater significance. Trouble is, it's fast becoming a losing battle.
It's not just the fact that tea lacks image that is alarming. There is a section of consumers that strongly believes that tea drinking leads to loss of appetite, acidity, ulcers and whatnot. And, of course, the more imaginatively inclined even insist tea consumption 'makes the skin darker'. That last one, in a country like India, can be quite a sales-killer.
Clearly, the Tea Board has a job on its hands. Of correcting both the 'health hazard' and image (or rather, non-image) perceptions. Which is what the latest television commercial for tea, created by FCB-Ulka, has set out to do.
The ad consists of a montage of different people, in different situations, drinking tea. Slices of life. Two young men, sheltering from the rain at a roadside tea stall, awaiting a bus. The bus comes, but the two fail to catch it. They return to the tea stall and good-naturedly ask for 'do chai'. Then there is this model and photographer at some shoot. A boy brings in some tea, but there isn't enough for everyone. So the model asks the kid for 'ek aur chai', and the photographer chimes in, 'Mujhe bhi'. A bartender pouring himself a nice steaming cup at the end of a long day… All through the film, the soundtrack goes 'Aaj phir jeene ko jee karta hai.'
From the look and feel of the ad, it is clear that the communication is primarily trying to fix the image problem. "If you look at hot beverages, tea is facing immense pressure from coffee," says Nitin Karkare, vice-president, FCB-Ulka Advertising. "While on one side, Nescafe has always been aggressive, now brands such as Barista are wooing away the youth. Plus you have the CSDs (carbonated soft drinks), the tetrapacked juices and now, even water, to compete with. All these beverages are targeting the 15-to-25 age group - the age where consumption habits are formed. And tea, as a 'main beverage', is sorely losing out. What this means is that I am not getting enough new converts."
FCB-Ulka's sees a solution in creating a distinct 'tea culture' that is relevant to the youth. "The problem is tea is not seen as chic," says Karkare. "Tea imagery has always been traditional, about warmth and all that. Now this is good, but it's not fashionable enough. Why, even the restaurants in five-star hotels are called 'Coffee Shops' and never 'Tea Shops'."
The agency's creative-aiding tool VIP (visual image profiling) came in handy while chiseling down to the communication. From the VIP process, what clearly emerged was that the tea drinker had a more 'maa' image, while the coffee drinker was more the today's woman. "However, VIP also helped us get a bearing on the universality of tea," says Karkare. "It showed that tea consumption actually cut across the socio-economic spectrum, and was actually very close to our roots. Which is why, although it would have been tempting to do an MTV-ish ad to appeal to the youth, we just glamourized tea a little bit."
Karkare explains that while the need was to make tea contemporary, it had to be done in a real way. "We had to show real people in real-life situations. We could not make it too hip, or the consumer will turn around and say this is not the way people drink tea. And he will reject it. We could not make the ad too elitist either. The idea was to say that tea is naturally hip, not forcedly hip."
The imagery in the ad has borrowed fairly accurately from real life. The old men on the park bench, the photographer and the model, all look possible. "The interesting thing is we have captured tea situations that have never been captured before. I bet everyone has seen photographers and models drinking tea from glass tumblers brought in those wire 'six-pack' baskets. That is being naturally hip."
The agency has consciously chosen to communicate the health angle to tea (that tea is actually healthy as it is a natural source of anti-oxidants) in the form of supers. "We wanted to work on a strong negative rather than push a positive," explains Karkare. "And anyway, the people we show in the ad are clearly healthy people."
Two very significant 'tea attributes' are its naturalness, and its intrinsic role in bonding people together. And these are aspects that the ad does not touch upon. "I agree that tea brings people together, but this attribute has been done to death in almost every tea commercial around," defends Karkare. "We saw no point in doing the same thing. Also, the objective of this campaign is different; it is to make tea relevant to the youth."
Agency : FCB-Ulka, Mumbai
The Team :
Creative : Haresh Moorjani, Ravindra Jadhav
Servicing : Nitin Karkare, Sumanta Ray
Filmmaker : Sabal Sheikhawat
Production House : Little Bigger Picture Company
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