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MarkeTEAing: How marketing made TEA, an integral part of India

Updated: May 22, 2021

It is more than just a brew; for most Indians, it’s a wakeup call. From high-end bistros to every street corner, it’s one ubiquitous drink that most Indians live-by. No morning can start without it, conversations weave around it and even our Prime Minister chooses to speak to us over it!

The Tea is one such beverage that fuels possibly every working-class Indian.

Surprisingly though, Tea was never integral to India’s culture. It is the outcome of intensive marketing over the years that has made India, one of the largest Tea consuming nations!

This article briefly discourses how Marketing ingrained the “Tea culture” to a nation that was completely alien to it

Chapter 1 – A Teaspoon of History

Historically, Tea was indigenous to China, which still is – the largest producer and consumer. The English first tasted this elixir in the early 17th Century. Eventually, tea was imported to England in small quantities.

Britishers became so obsessed with Tea that it became deep-rooted in their culture. Traditions like “Tea Time” was invented, which interestingly still exists in a game of Test Cricket.

Back in the 1800s, the Englishmen could not trade directly with China due to various barriers. So, after arduous efforts, the Britishers successfully obtained the knowhows to cultivate tea in their erstwhile colony – India.

The Britishers created the India Tea Committee to cultivate and manufacture tea in our nation. In the 1900s about 75 million kgs of Tea were supplied to England. India is now a major producer of Tea globally and manufactured Tea more than what the British markets demanded. As a result, the India Tea Committee had to do something with the excess produce.

Fig. 1: Till the early 1900s, Tea was only marketed for the British & the elite Indians.

Chapter 2 – Brief STP Analysis of Tea in early 1900s in India

Segmented mostly for British citizens residing in India, and the upper-class Indians, Tea had become a culture among the elites. Most of the customers were heavy users and the beverage was slowly becoming a medium to socialize among the high society.

Tea was a single-segment concentration back then targeting only the upper class with the CTC variant. Although, other variants also existed, they were uncommon in the Indian Market.

The premium positioning also made the product less appealing to the Indian masses.

Fig. 2&3: Print Ads of Lipton Tea from the early 1900s, indicating ‘Tea’ of occupying a ‘premium positioning’

Chapter 3 – The World War & Repositioning of Tea.

In the late 1910s, history witnessed the First World War. As the War had collapsed the Economy of England, the demand for Tea in their nation started declining.

So, the cunning Britishers came up with a solution that changed the consumer behavior of (virtually) every Indian.

The Solution: Introduce the product to a new market – India.

The Britishers and the Indian Tea Committee came up with some of the most ingenious strategies that changed the behavior of every Indian. Making Indians consume tea involved a massive marketing campaign that lasted years and successfully ingrained tea into our culture. And now, every working-class Indian lives-by Chai, be it in a nukkad or an upscale Tea House.

The India Tea Committee now started positioning Tea as a product meant for every Indian. And changing the segment from single-segment concentration to a mass-marketed commodity involved some of the most experimental marketing strategies.

Chapter 4 – The MarkeTEAing Strategies

Introducing and sustaining a food habit to a nation is undoubtedly a herculean task. The India Tea Committee tied up with Tea Companies and started promoting tea in order to introduce it to the Indian masses. Enlisted below are some of the most impactful marketing strategies:

i. Railway Stations – An experimental marketing that laid the foundation!

Indian Railways inevitably forms the backbone of Indian transportation, so helping people setting up small stalls in Railway Stations was a massive experiment that helped “Chai” gain awareness. Small Tea vendors with stoves and kettles had spurred up across the entire nation in Tea Junctions, starting from Punjab to Bengal that helped Tea gain acceptance among the masses.

ii. Education Propaganda – Content Marketing done right!

The term content marketing seemed to emerge in late 2000s and is the ongoing buzzword in the marketing industry. But marketers of various tea companies started educating the masses to build awareness about the magical beverage in the early 1900s.

The companies used traditional ATL advertisements like large boards, hoardings, leaflets about “How to Make Tea” in local languages which were put up in public spaces.

This helped create mass awareness about the product in general, irrespective of any brands. Heavy illustrations & graphics were used in the ATL mediums as the majority of the Indians were not formally educated back then.

Fig. 4: Hoardings in vernacular languages (Urdu & Bangla) showing the process to make tea. An old form of content marketing that existed way before internet was born.

iii. Events & Experiences

Demonstrations were held just like modern-day Events & Experiences to teach common Indian masses on how to make tea at their homes. The events also highlighted the health benefits of drinking tea. These events also distributed free samples to the audience – a typical example of sampling. This enabled trial of tea among the masses which later followed by the massive growth of the industry.

iv. Advertisements

As the initial efforts of creating awareness about the tea seemed successful, the India Tea Committee started its next plan of repositioning the product. Above-The-Line Advertisements were conducted to portray Tea as a product for ‘The Aam Admi’.

“It was necessary to start your day with a cup of tea…A breakfast would be incomplete without a cup of tea…” – Such associations helped tea create a strong bond with the Indians who readily accepted the beverage as their own. For an Independent India, Tea became a symbol of unity. It represented a diverse yet united nation.

Fig. 5: The Print Ads of the mid 1920s when its was highly targeted towards the Indians

v. The tactic of Indianization

The bland taste of black tea did not appeal to the Indian taste buds. So, the marketers broke the stereotype of “The English Tea” and co-created Chai. This Indianization tactic did wonders and gave birth to the famous Cutting Chai of Mumbai to Bhar er Cha in Kolkata.

This tactic has been widely replicated even a century later by the QSR chains to gain market share in India. McDonald’s introducing McMaharaja Burger (and an entire vegetarian product line), Dominos and Pizza hut introducing Indian toppings are other instances of this tactic.

Chapter 5 – The Modern Marketing Scenario…

Post-independence, tea has become a cultural identity of India. From socializing to rejuvenating, Chai has become a lifestyle habit for most Indians. But with time, marketing communications too evolved and Tea has transcended from its image of an energetic beverage. While socializing remains a key association for tea, the 21st Century has witnessed Tea take a center stage for various social causes.

i: Tata Tea – Jaago Re Campaigns

Tata Tea has made daring attempts to associate Tea as a symbol of righteousness. The brand has boldly covered various pollical & social issues that plague our wonderful nation.

Though, most of their campaigns revolve around Indian political scenarios depicting corrupt politicians, irresponsible citizens, and the likes. But over time, their campaigns have also addressed persistent social evils ranging from rape, corrupt politics, gender inequality.

Here are YouTube links to some of the other bold campaigns from Tata Tea Brand:

Here are YouTube links to some of the other bold campaigns from Tata Tea Brand:

ii. Brooke Bond Campaigns

HUL owned brand, Brooke Bond has been very instrumental in making tea an integral part of India. In the 20th Century, the brand has made itself a part of Indian households. Brooke Bond has also taken a departure from the normal tea narrative.

The brand “Brooke Bond” stands for making the world a more inclusive place over a cup of tea. The “Swad Apnepan ka” campaign has seen the brand promote communal harmony.

It has also used storytelling to go against social stigmas. Recently, the brand has greatly focused on highlighting the plight of the transgender community in our nation.

Fig. 6: HUL in its truest fashion depicted one of the most controversial topic & turned it into a thought-provoking film. Link:

Brooke Bond’s other thought-provoking ads that are sure to give you goose bumps:

Brooke Bond has also addressed various stereotypes through their Let's #Unstereotype campaigns.

Brooke Bond has taken the Tea experience even further for its premium sub-brand, Taj Mahal. It has started one of its kind Taj Mahal Tea House in Mumbai. The venue creates a truly unique experience for its “patrons”. The Tea House also brings some of the biggest maestros of Indian Classical Music to perform at the venue.


Marketing as we all know has shaped behavior in humans – starting from emphasizing breakfast to be the most important meal of the day (by Kellogg’s) to converting Japan from a tea-drinking nation to a coffee preferred nation (Nestle). The amazing endeavors of marketing inducing behavioral change are endless… Another noteworthy illustration of marketing induced change is how Claude Hopkins made brushing teeth with toothpaste the morning ritual of every individual on this planet.

Similarly, the story of Tea, (Chai, Cha, Tēnīr, Chaya) is truly exceptional. It a glorious success story of a marketing strategy that has made Chai this popular. It’s astonishing how this simple concoction has become the favoured brew for every social class in India – starting from a daily wage labourer t

o a Creative Head brainstorming for her next media campaign. Chai has simply united a nation that is otherwise diverse in culture, language and geography.

Being a native of the Dooars region of Bengal which is surrounded by lush green Tea Estates, I pondered a lot and thought what’s better than telling the tale of MarkeTEAing!

IISWBM Batch 2018-20

MT at ICICI Bank

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