Deepashree Banerjee

"Indians want their 'own' cup of chai": Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos

Chaayos took India's favourite beverage out of the kitchen and into the cafe space. Now, the retail chain is out with its first ad film format that's part of a full-fledged digital campaign.

Founded in 2012 by IIT-duo Nitin Saluja and Raghav Verma, Chaayos has, over time, come to be known as a fast-casual dining chain which presently has a footprint of 58 cafes across seven cities. The brand is out with its #MentalAboutChai campaign which has two TVCs to its credit. Mumbai-based advertising and marketing agency, Fatmen conceptualised the campaign.

"Indians want their 'own' cup of chai": Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos

Shok Sabha, the brand's first TVC ever. Chaayos offers 25 varieties of freshly made tea, with over 12,000 customisation options

In an exclusive chat with afaqs!, Verma opens up about the brand's advertising journey so far and the brand's obsession with going all over the board with its personalised chai options.

"Indians want their 'own' cup of chai": Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos

Baarish Ki Raat

Even the tongue-in-cheek humour and slightly over-the-top execution in the ad seems to be used as key elements to demonstrate how seriously the brand takes its customisation aspect (grinding ginger for starters).

"Indians want their 'own' cup of chai": Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos

Raghav Verma

Explaining why as a brand they leverage the digital space as their lead medium of communication, Verma says, "We always measure or assess media vehicles from the point of view of where our TG is and what gets us the most measurable ROIs. #MentalAboutChai is, therefore, an all-digital campaign.

Verma optimistically adds, "Our Same Store Sales growth has consistently been above 30 per cent for the past few years and this is a very encouraging number, clearly indicating that every year more and more customers are finding us relevant."

In an interview that appeared in our Marketers' Special Issue last year, Verma was quoted as saying, "Our 'Chai on Delivery' model constitutes almost 20 per cent of our business. Interestingly, we do an equal number of home and office deliveries. The demand for freshly made customised chai when people step out - be it in malls, high streets, business parks, airports, highways or metro stations - has increased. Also, chai is now seen as a cool beverage to hang out with, conduct a meeting over or go for a date with."

The feedback loop with customers today is very fast, Verma agrees, with penetration of social media and with brands also actively listening to what customers are talking about. He says, "Getting customer information is easier than it has ever been before. Having said that, it is important that we are able to peel the layers and understand triggers and barriers for the customer in its true sense and not just over-simplify consumer trends."

We asked him what made the tea café chain wait this long to release the first piece of creative, after seven years of being in operation.

"Indians want their 'own' cup of chai": Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos

Chaayos has tied up with Shah Rukh Khan starrer Dilwale released in 2015
Click on the image to enlarge

"We have done multiple radio campaigns; we did an in-movie promotion in a Shahrukh Khan starrer - Dilwale. We have also done a few videos in the past and these were all very interesting concepts but were restricted to our own social media. This is our first piece of creative in a film format that is being used for a full-fledged digital campaign," he informs.

Over the years, the brand has tried to take Chai (which is exclusively a home beverage) out of the Indian kitchen. "Our creative brief given to the agency was simple - how do we bring out the fact that customers in India actually want their own cup of chai, which we've termed as "Meri Wali Chai". Everywhere else except at Chaayos, customers only get a fixed Chai menu, which may or may not be what a customer is looking for. This is what we have solved because we are also #MentalAboutChai as much as our customers are," he responds, taking a subtle dig at existing chains.

Throwing some light on the brand's projects in the pipeline, "We would want to continue with #MentalAboutChai for now. We have a lot of interesting pieces of content lined up under the same theme," he signs off.

On the technology front, the tech team of the brand developed an IOT-based chai robot called 'Chai Monk' that ensures consistency in every chai order, despite the 12,000 permutations possible.

Alongside the cafes and delivery hubs serving chai, the brand sells its tea blends through e-commerce site Amazon. It delivers through food delivery apps such as Zomato, Swigyy and FoodPanda as well. The bulk of the orders, however, come from the Chaayos app and subscription services, informs brand sources.

On the other hand, Bengaluru-based tea cafe Chai Point, Chaayos' immediate rival made its advertising debut three years back.

Both Chai Point and Chaayos have capitalised on a serious lacuna in our Indian market - the emergence of the tea cafe or modern 'chai adda' experience. Being primarily a tea country, are we late in introducing this concept?

"Indians want their 'own' cup of chai": Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos

Prabhakar Mundkur

Prabhakar Mundkur, a brand strategy advisor, says, "Ideally, one would have expected an initiative like this to have been taken up by the big boys of tea in our country, i.e. Brooke Bond Lipton or even Tata Tea. To be fair though, Wagh Bakri has been pursuing their idea of the tea lounge for a long time now ever since they opened their first lounge in Vile Parle in Mumbai. And I think Brooke Bond has its solitary Taj Mahal Tea House in Bandra (Mumbai), but it is clearly an upmarket place for high-quality specialised teas."

The role for a brand in this category, Mundkur feels, is clearly to challenge the homemade brew which their current commercial does well. However, he's not sure if the situation depicted in the TV commercial surrounding death might be the most appropriate for Indian families as the situation is clearly 'apshakun' or a bad omen. And tea is associated with happy, cheerful, social, sharing, and caring moments.

He sees no problem in the brand's attempt to take an exclusive home beverage out of the kitchen as traditionally the chaiwala and dhabas have already done that. "The Chaayos model only contemporarises our need to drink a good cup of tea on the run," he says.

The reason why it may have taken Chaayos seven years to produce their first TV commercial is no surprise. Mundkur explains, saying, "Unless you have sufficient and wide distribution in the country it does not become economical to have a TV commercial. They may also have been inspired by the likes of Starbucks that never had traditional advertising for their brand."

"Indians want their 'own' cup of chai": Raghav Verma, co-founder, Chaayos

Neeraj Sharma

Acknowledging the mammoth challenge Chaayos has compared to the existing coffee outlets, Neeraj Sharma, head of planning, Rediffusion Group has a rather interesting take, "Tea in India is so familiar that it's much easier to find fault with outside-home chai than appreciate it, especially if you are charging much more for a product which consumers already have a reference point for, i.e. Tapri chai."

Nonetheless, he seems reasonably impressed with the promise of putting the heart in making every cup suited to varied tastes. "But execution leaves much to be desired. When you have such powerful conversations around tea like 'jaago re' and 'swad apnepan ka', one is almost forced to find a better narrative and a better plank," he points out.

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