Sankalp Dikshit

This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...

Black Swan Life crafts a 3-minute-long film for Society Tea called 'For the Tea Society called India'.

Tea brand, Society Tea has come up with a new ad film which celebrates tea as a national leveller. Titled, 'For The Tea Society Called India', the three-minute-long film, sans any verbal communication, attempts to capture the manner in which tea seamlessly transcends and unites the borders of states, ethnicity, society, age, gender, and more.

This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...

Society Tea's new ad titled, 'For The Tea Society Called India'Conceptualised by Black Swan Life, the ad looks and feels strikingly different from what we have seen in this segment so far. We got in touch with Sukumar Menon, founder and creative head, Black Swan Life, to understand how and why he zeroed in on this concept. He explains, "We were very conscious of creating a slingshot moment. Society Tea has a wonderful legacy, loyal customer base and great market share. We felt it's the right time to use it as a springboard to own something bigger. And then it was serendipity; the idea was staring at us square in the eye in the brand name. Just flip Society Tea and it becomes Tea Society. Any tea brand can say this, but no tea brand can say it like this."

Menon shares with us that "abstract everyday surrealism" was a filter while crafting this film. He adds, "We didn't want to do another national integration film. We wanted to capture the nuances of tea across the country. While working on the approach, we were sure that a lot of it will be unsaid (not spelt out) and subtle."

But doesn't this "unsaid" narrative expose the ad to a variety of interpretations which may or may not be in sync with the marketing subtext? After all, the brand is missing in action for most part of this long video. "We did not want to spoon-feed the communication. As you appropriately said, we wanted people to have their own interpretations. People don't remember a brand because it's screaming at them. They remember it because the brand has touched them in a personal way by relating to the insight and the nuances. And when a brand does this consciously and effectively, then people remember everything about the film." clarifies Menon.

This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...

Sukumar Menon

This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...

Sachin S Pillai

Such an unconventional treatment has landed the ad into uncharted territory. "It was a big risk we were taking because we knew almost all of it will be left to happy accidents. And, therefore, the director had to be just right. So, we spent an insane amount of time finding the right director who would match our frequency," informs Menon.

Sachin S Pillai, director of the video, tells us that the film was shot across several locations including Mumbai, New Delhi, Benares, Calcutta, Raghurajpur, Darjeeling, Shillong, Spiti, Kashmir, Shimla, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Dwarka, Goa and Kerala.

Pillai tells us that the film is a combination of candid as well as "set-up" shots. He says, "All our subjects knew they were being shot and most times, the key was to keep instructions to a minimum and let things happen organically. We would go up to people in their respective environments and ask them whether they would like a cup of tea, always keeping a hot flask and clean glasses on hand so that we could set up a situation if we had to."

While the video looks like a collage of splendid clips, 'montage' is the technically apt word to use here. "We had two camera bodies with us at all times, although only one camera would be rolling at a time. I had a beautiful set of fifteen lenses with me for this trip. A lot of shots have breathing or tracking motion in them, although it's all meant to be slow and subtle. I'm not sure what the technical term would be, although the term 'mise en scène' comes to mind: where art, composition and light come together to tell a story in a frame," informs Pillai.

Pillai also narrates how rapid changes in weather were physically hard to deal with, "We would go from being somewhere like Spiti with clean air and delicious cold weather, to the 48 degree Celsius desert heat in Jaisalmer, within three days."

Speaking about the media mix, Karan Shah, director, Amar Tea, says, "We are playing the film across news channels, to begin with, coinciding with Gujarat elections. And then we will progress to GECs. We will be promoting it online along with multiplexes."

But is this ad our experts' cup of tea?

Gone are the days when brands could get away with demo shots in thirty-second TVCs. In order to stay relevant with new age consumers, brands utilise all the tricks of the trade to distinguish themselves from competition and tea brands are no exception. So what if the product in question is a beverage which is a national obsession anyway. Tata Tea still went ahead to teach viewers a lesson on gender equality in its 'Jaago Re' campaign while Brooke Bond Red Label pushed the envelope further to support the cause of the third gender in a music video. Keeping all this in mind, does this new ad break through the clutter or is it just an addition to it?

This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...

Siddhi Desai

This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...

Ram Subramanian

Siddhi Desai, associate creative director, DigitasLBi, says, "For a brand like Society Tea, which has not done a lot of campaigns in the recent past, the film is a little weak in branding and does not clearly establish a purpose. This category has brands like Taj Mahal and Tata, which have some iconic advertising and positioning, making it imperative for other brands to do clutter-breaking work. However, the film does Indianise the brand; subtly nudging you to relate it to a more local consumer rather than a high society one. I would look at it as the beginning of a new journey for the brand. A new space it can live in if followed up by some more brand-defining work."

Desai feels that the ad has a lot of "textbook shots" that ensures a good film. "Shift focus, colourful rural India shots, slow-motion nature shots, etc., but individually they don't really stay with you. Overall, the film did have a couple of exceptional frames, but it wasn't the visual spectacle that it aimed or needed to be," she elucidates.

Desai is not too happy with the length of the video, "I wish the visuals unfolded a story that kept the viewer hooked. But the communication is so different from what one would expect from Society, that, as I mentioned, helps in breaking the perception and opens up a whole new space the brand can live in going further."

Ram Subramanian, ad film-maker/peace and equality activist, Handloom Picture Company, labels the ad as "just another montage ad". He says, "I don't know what the brand is trying to tell me. The content is like a Nat Geo promo on India. It looks beautiful, sans any purpose. I won't watch it unless I am captive, like in a theatre. There is no idea, as such, in the video, just a play on the brand name plus some feel-good emotion about India that many brands are trying to get into lately."

Speaking about the execution, Subramanian says, "Shooting techniques and the overall execution is not very inspiring. I have seen montages like this in the past. However, there were some interesting product shots."

A look at some of the older ads from the brand:

This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...
This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...
This brand paints a portrait of India with tea leaves...

Agency Credits:

Sukumar Menon - Creative Head

Naisho Abraham - Design Head

Rasika Banerjee - Brand Strategist

Prathyush Menon - Account Manager


Sachin S Pillai

Production House:



Karan Shah - Director, Amar Tea Pvt. Ltd.


Salvage Audio Collective (Rohan Ramanna & Sohrab Nicholson)

Colour Grading:

Nikola Mrdalj at Nube Studio

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