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.