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-Illustration by Lori Anzalone.

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world second to water, and is served at both professional and social gatherings worldwide. In Pakistan, it is counted as a staple food item of the common man and is an integral part of our culture and heritage. Whether it’s the light yet effective green tea, the slight tinge of lemon tea, the most common and everyone’s favourite doodhpatti, the occasional Kashmiri chai, or the delicacy of herbal tea, we all love tea and consume a substantial quantity everyday.

Tea culture is defined by the way tea is made and consumed; by the way the people interact with tea, and by the aesthetics surrounding tea drinking. In Pakistan, tea is usually consumed at breakfast, during lunch breaks at the workplace, and in the evening at home, which is usually consumed with biscuits or cake. Guests are also typically offered tea as a choice other than soft drinks. Dhabay ki chai is by far still the best tea one can get.

The beverage is a part of many occasions in one’s everyday life, so when it comes down to marketing a tea brand or a related product, why is it always portrayed as a secret product to survive a rishta ceremony? Why has the concept of a woman with a tea-tray/tea-trolley, serving and saying nothing, nodding their head and smiling at random intervals become a stereotype for all tea labels? Furthermore, why has it never been questioned and become so readily accepted by their audiences?

Women are the main target audience for all tea brands as they are considered the decision makers for consumable household products. But no woman is comfortable being scrutinised while bringing a tea-tray for her prospective in-laws.

Tapal is a remarkably successful tea brand and has previously done some reasonably good commercials. But the latest Tapal Family Mixture commercial takes us back to the tea trolley generation.

Screen shot 2012-09-07 at 6.39.01 PM

The commercial opens with a university scene where the girl finds out she has passed with a position. Apart from the fact that the story was circulating around yet another woman, I was actually impressed it didn’t start with the typical rishta scene. But my appreciation didn’t last long because as she goes home, a dupatta is draped on her head and a tea-tray handed to her.

What kind of a message does that put across?

Their audience may be middle to upper class women but for a female population in a country like Pakistan, it is not commonly accepted for a marriage to follow education in many households. For many it may even be a long and dreaded journey of carrying tea trays and pushing tea trolleys, answering insulting questions, being scrutinised rather obviously; followed by a long string of rejections that destroy all self-esteem and lead to depression.

Why can’t brand managers and creative agencies not understand that every round of tea-tray carrying and glances exchanged over a tea-cup does not lead to a fairytale romance and a magical wedding and this insults the sentiments of many Pakistani women who are probably more beautiful and eligible than Mahira.


Nestle EveryDay uses the same strategy to sell their milk powder for tea. In their Tum Main Hai Kuch Khaas commercial, the concept is so centralised on stories of different women that you end up asking yourself in the end - Kis Main Hai Kuch Khaas, EveryDay or the women?

No doubt, both commercials have very catchy jingles and Nestle EveryDay is also very well-directed. It probably even has a stronger brand recall because of the strategically used brand color, which Tapal has also used in their previous Tapal Family Mixture and ‘Lal hai tou Tapal hai’ campaign. But in the end, they’re both trying to sell their products to women by selling women themselves. Why is this never obvious to their target audiences?

Drinking tea has a lot of health benefits which Lipton’s ‘Sip of Inspiration’ campaign intelligently proposes.

Unfortunately, all their commercials are international campaigns that are locally adapted, but it is still worth watching a tea commercial that does not revolve around women or rishta ceremonies. While their brilliantly directed international campaign visually shows how tea sharpens the mind, the local adaptation focuses on Lipton comprising ingredients that help sooth your throat.

I will be repeating myself if I say that business owners, brand managers and advertising teams should realise what impact advertisements have on a society. But in this particular case, while many women may even buy the product, and the brand managers and creative agencies will think they’ve done their job, it may even have a serious negative impact on many single women.

Being a woman and a tea-lover myself, I don’t think I’d ever buy a tea brand that portrays it as a product for stiff upper lip rituals. It’s a choice I would pick to save myself from the embarrassment of not knowing the difference between a mocha and a macchiato. For me, chai has no rules.


Mahjabeen Mankani-80

The writer is a New Media Design Manager at

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The writer is a Multimedia Producer at She tweets @mejmankani

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (20) Closed

Rome Sep 08, 2012 11:14am
Ireland is the country with the highest per-capita tea consumption. But relentless advertising by soft drink companies is turning the younger generation away from tea. This will soon happen in the subcontinent too.
Agha Ata Sep 08, 2012 03:03pm
The only thing I ever heard in the USA about women and tea is a proverb, saying that "A woman is like a tea bag, you never know her strength unless she is in hot water."
karthik Sep 09, 2012 01:36pm
Lets for get a minute about these ads,and enjoy a hyderabadi irani lamsa chai with a samosa,the day doesnt get better than this for a monsoon season
Syed Sep 08, 2012 11:29pm
oh the horror, this article caught me early in the morning while I was sipping on chai (no milk or suger just the way tea should be taken) and it's Dilmah, the tea company (that I know of) who "actually" share it's profits with the workers who collect it from the fields. that's why I support it (there you go, free ad. for Dilmah), I don't think lipton does that cause the box carry a special sticker IF the profits are shared among workers working on meager salaries. isn't it amazing the biggest tea company in the world does not own much of the farms? they claim though. Ever since cigarette ads. died down (let's admit it, the ad. done more than a decade ago in shahi qila was awesome), ads for mobile companies and tea or related products have filled up that gap, and the soundtracks are getting better and better you can use them in the movies !!! no kidding !!! "tum ma ha kuch khaas" for nestle and "batain" for zong, they are quite good tracks minus the pictures. I think someone needs to pay attention to the "Mountain Dew" ads, they are ads. that should be followed by "don't try this at home" message, they are not for kids to see. they want you to drink cola and chai but no one tells you to drink water !!! such is the irony of capitalism. Doctor I am not but I don't think the "chai" we drink (witch milk and what not) is beneficial to our health, it should be green, herbal, organic etc etc, not tea cup with a kilo of white powder !!! jeez.
Harris Sep 10, 2012 03:49pm
I think you need to read more about semiotics and culture - perhaps Roland Barthes - to develop a theoretical lens with which you could see how these ads for meaning and impact people's mental and physical habits. What you do right now is just C grade content analysis and your own assumptions seem to overshadow the ones you set out to question. I'm sorry for being so brutal.
Labad Sep 08, 2012 11:45am
The Nestl
Pakistani Sep 08, 2012 03:56pm
although these rishta ads become monotonous and boring, i still see nothing wrong in them. so what if the woman is wearing a dupatta? does that make her automatically opressed? the rishta culture is still very prevalant in pakistan and the job of the advertising company is to sell their product to their target market and frankly they are just doing that. they could come up with more interesting ads though, but still nothing wrong with these ads, just like jews shut everyone up by shouting anti semitism, the women these days also do the same by shouting stereotyping in everything.
karam Sep 08, 2012 02:11pm
i guess write is a little confused and criticised something without sufficient research. Media is all about GLAMOUR now. Its a changing world. First criticise your channels which are hiring model girls to narrate news. even for islamic programmes they hire pretty girls who has done all make up and lushy dress just covering a quarter of her head to make a LITTLE ISLAMIC CHARM to the programme.
taimur Sep 08, 2012 12:34pm
writer has taken her plight of being rejected on tv commercials.lipton ad is inspired from ali zafar,s pepsi ad.
Ankit Sep 08, 2012 05:39pm
I was disappointed to see that there was no mention of QAMAR tea and the creativity involved in making those ads
Yousuf Sep 09, 2012 08:59pm
I will definately appreciate the brainstorming that the author has put on this crucial subject (:P)......but one thing I would like to point out that just for the sake of selling tea, the advertising agencies are terming it healthy alternative, which is definately incorrect.... so a bit more time wasted by author on this subject would have yielded some beneficial conclusion regarding cheap tactics employed by advertising agencies....
fbn2 Sep 08, 2012 11:06am
I think what the ad is 'trying' to convey is that every pleasant change in life can be celebrated or initiated with tea. And in our culture, marriage is the ultimate fate of every girl. If she can impress her in-laws with tea, what can be better than that? Such typical mentality.
Ash Mirza Sep 08, 2012 10:01am
I think now tea companies must advertise that TEA IS GOOD FOR HEALTH, AS PER NEW RESEARCH...IT REDUCES BLOOD PRESSURE.......... ash mirza (USA)
Atif Sep 10, 2012 04:59am
There is yet another kind of tea being consumed in the notheren areas of Pakistan. I happen to visit on of the highest village in the world at the height exzeeding 13000 feet above mean sea level. Its called Hot Spring or TATTA PANI. They make tea with milk of Zoo(Yak) in which they mix yak butter towards the end and serve with slat. Its hard to take but good for chilling cold of that region.
ahmed41 Sep 10, 2012 05:17am
Advertisements apart , as one grows older , it is the consumption of tea that leads to a loss of Calcium from the body. When the Calcium which is thus lost , does not get replaced, one gets *SEVERE CRAMPS* at night in the early morning hours. Stop drinking tea ( or use GREEN tea) and the cramps go away. Take the Calcium tablet last thing at night. ahmed41 age 71
ali Sep 10, 2012 06:45am
Dear Ad expert, I have had the opportunity to read your take on various ads/brands and each time I am ever more convinced that you are not exactly an expert. I remember when you said that zong flutter ad reminds you of the word fliritng - seriously! Not everyone thinks on the same line. Regarding tea and its place in soceity. Believe it or not, if you do get to know ordinary Pakistani Women, for them cooking and making tea is part of thier job description - a medium through which they can express their love for the family and when appreciated for carrying out a good job, they get immense satisfaction. It may come down to you as an oppressive thought but leaving that aside, it only makes it natural that brand manager/agencies tend to involve family members, especially husband and wife. Lastly about rishta - once again, the rishta tea making incidence is highly associated with married individuals (who are the main target of this ad), and that where their jounrey starts. Serving tea at rishta and right till when their married and have children. What you are advocating to brand managers is to build rebellious brand (within Pakistani context) where a woman is not exactly making tea for other family memebers ('selling herself') or to set-up a context where tea is not shown as a family ritual but more of individual choice (once again quite off the mark). Therefore seeing your work as a brand manager would be quite interesting. There is a reason why Lipton ads are the way they are - like you mentioned, they are adapted veriosn of internation campaign. And the reason why rest of the brands revlolve around rishta, etc., because they are generated keeping in mind how Pakistan Society works. Thank you.
Arsalan Sep 10, 2012 09:20am
In the tea trolly type of ad the main target is probably a happy occasion as in our culture marrying one's daughter/ sister is considered quite an achievement. so the joyous moment is complemented by serving tea and everyone's honky dory. besides there's no doubt that we have real dearth of ideas and all the ads are soo stereotypical that one has no option but to switch the channel
Kumar Sep 09, 2012 06:03am
grande, non fat extra hot chai at starbucks
emraan Sep 08, 2012 05:13pm
tea is no longer gives me caffine dose like a cup of coffee......nd as far as commercials r concerned i can't put it better thn bill hicks if u in advertising business, "you should kill yourself". i think thy hve nothing to contribute to society or tele bt jst make illusion to trick people.
Mohd Raza Sep 10, 2012 03:36am
Green tea somehow gives me acid, but doodh wali chai is always refreshing, as you know (karak chai da pyala) is something which gives you a refreshing effect while workling long hours or getting bored while doing nothing.. Besides that, the topic which is being covered I would say that it has a good reason behind relating tea with women, I think Lipton opted for such situation because it was beleived that tea makes you tan, and to over come that myth lipton or any other tea manufacturing comany has to come up with a new idea. The message in those adds are given is that, you won't get tan when you drink tea and it gives a good impression for your in laws to know that their 'BAHU Rani' is a tea addict.