Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Advertising analysis – The ‘chai’ culture

September 08, 2012


-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