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Changing the Stereotype of Tea-Drinkers

How to create a new following for an old product

Punked-out tea drinkers

A Challenge for Marketers and Advertisers

What if your job was to market an old standby to a completely new audience?

Wait! If you’re a marketer or an advertiser, your job is to market old products to new audiences. Your success relies on your ability to stimulate sales in modern markets long after the newness of an item has worn off.

Let’s say you have to create sales for cheese, to people who aren’t interested in it, because they think that it’s just for stodgy Midwestern women and casseroles laden with fat. Put on your thinking caps. How do you market cheese to a new audience?

You would follow the lead of tea companies who are winning new converts, increasing sales, and expanding their brand by overturning the previous stereotypes.

Marketing Strategies of the Tea-Trade

A recent article in the New York Times, “Care for a Cup of Satanic Chamomile?” — the title of that article a stroke of marketing genius all on its own — showcased the changing world of tea and how innovative tea merchants are targeting a vastly different consumer than in years past.

It’s important to note that tea is the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry, second only to bottled water. While much of the United States prefers coffee, worldwide, the population favors tea, drinking 25,000 cups every SECOND, 2.16 billion cups per day, and consuming 700 billion gallons of tea per year.

But even though many Americans prefer coffee, there’s a growing demand for tea, partly because the tea-trade is shifting perceptions and shaking stereotypes about the people who drink it.

Three Tea-Industry Marketing Techniques to Emulate

Creative combos and unpredicted partnerships

If you thought that tea-drinking was just for old ladies in hats, think again. Tea companies are growing their audiences by forming unexpected partnerships. How about pairing tea blends with head-banging musicians, an approach that Pitch Black North is trying? The owner, Dominic Alvernaz, has formed partnerships with the Cleveland metal punk band, Midnight, and the British heavy-metal band, Cradle of Filth. Alvernaz believes that pairing a special blend of teas with musicians is an effective sales tool to

“…get people interested in tea who wouldn’t normally be interested in it…”

Isn’t that what all marketers do? They interest people who wouldn’t ordinarily be interested.

Another tea company, Ivy’s Tea, owned by Shanae Jones in Laurel, Maryland, has paired her blends up with hip hop music with a nod to her British and Jamaican ancestry. She wants to promote tea for brown people.

“People that look like me are not included in tea advertisements, we’re not the market for tea parties, nothing, so I just decided I was going to change all of that.”

Creative collaborations don’t only help the tea company. They may also benefit the musicians who can sell the product on their website with their merchandise.

New product names

Teas named Lady Grey or Sweet Vanilla Cupcake aren’t the right product names for new audiences, so titles have developed that work with the targeted audience. Pitch Black North has teas named, Throat of Lucifer, Satan’s Slumber, and Dark Blood. The teas themselves are not scary to taste. They’re described as malty, classic English breakfast teas, and a delightful Vanilla Blueberry concoction, but you would never know it by the name. Ms. Jones of Ivy’s Teas offers blends called, Sister, Sister, Yella, and Red Bone that resonate with her hip-hop association.

Even the company name can target an audience. Consider Brutaliteas, with the tagline of tea time just got heavy, and aligns itself with the horror genre, an industry ripe with tea drinkers thirsty for blends like Chaiday-the-13th, and Children of the Candy Corn.

Provocative visuals

You’ve heard the adage that the definition of failure is when you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. It’s true with visual marketing. Growing your audience may mean doing something drastically different.

Not this:

Pouring from china teapot

But this:

Man drinking milk tea

Or this:

Cheese, Please

The tea-trade demonstrates fascinating ways to change stereotypes and create new audiences for an old product. If you had to apply these three techniques to gain new markets for the ancient food source, cheese, what would you do?

First, brainstorm creative combinations of products with groups representing possible audiences. Pair cheese with astronauts and space exploration. Or maybe super-models and the fashion industry. Dog-lovers, gold-diggers, money-makers, sports-watchers, and babysitters — whatever group offers a viable market-share. The possible pairings are both endless and compelling.

Next, come up with new product names — because who wants to eat boring bleu cheese when you could be sampling, Over the Bleu Moon, One Giant Taste for Man, or Houston’s Hunk?

Finally, shake up the visuals. Replace those pictures of dairy cows with something that appeals to your audience — whichever group you’ve chosen to target. Dare to be different. Forego the cheddar color and explore a different palette altogether.

When you’re done with your job for the day and have gotten lots of new people interested in purchasing something they’d never cared about before, you can sit down, relax, and have a cuppa.


For more about marketing and copywriting, see articles in "A Writer's Life"

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