Monday, June 15, 2009

Commercials: Coffee vs Tea

I am increasingly realizing how absurdly outpaced tea ads are by coffee ads. Even in the 1980s (before specialty coffee was popular), there was this Coffee Association Commercial featuring celebrities like David Bowie. More recently, there have been a number of ads in the U.S. and the rest of the Western world featuring coffee as a drug-like substance that is either necessary to function or illicit and (therefore) sexy. Examples:

WNBA coffee commercial makes coffee look like the key to a successful life and links it to skill in sports.

European coffee commercial features coffee as a necessary supplement for daily functioning.

Eastern European (possibly Russian?) Starbucks commercial makes life without coffee absurd and potentially dangerous.

Secret society coffee commercial shows a sexy, exclusive side of coffee.

Cinderella coffee shows coffee as romantic and fated.

How do Western tea ads compete?

Snapple white tea ad portrays tea as simple. (Seriously? Come on...)

Spanish tea commercial shows tea as whimsical. (Meh.)

Lipton ice tea ad makes tea seem like a feel-good, taste-good choice (and is my favorite of the tea Western commercials I've found for that reason).

A different Lipton commercial shows tea as a Zen mind-body-spirit lifter and as an escape from the everyday. (Not bad.)

Lipton also shows tea as refreshing, psychedelic and even sexy, which puts it in competition with coffee. That's important in markets like Portugal (where it was screened and coffee is more prevalent than tea).

From what I can tell, this Pickwick tea ad shows tea as Zen yet urgent. I think it's funny if you know the language (I don't), but it shows a monk grimacing when he sips the tea at the end. (SALES FAIL. ... Or tea and casting fail? Perhaps it's that bad and the guy can't act through the immense badness.)

Of course, there are some cool tea commercials coming out of Asia (notably the weird Mugi-Cha commercial and the cute caterpillar commercial), but these days there are even better Asian coffee ads:

Celebrity coffee ad shows coffee as desirable and more important to reporters than what a famous person has to say.

David Lynch coffee commercial makes coffee mysterious and (seemingly) more important than a missing woman. (There's a whole series of these on YouTube.)

And... Brad Pitt is in not one but TWO Japanese coffee commercials. Need I say more?

Beyond just ads, a popular South Korean drama is based in a coffee shop run by actor/model heartthrob Gong Yoo. (Here, he's in a coffee ad, but re: the show... Talk about product placement!) In Asia, coffee has become hip, edgy, alluringly exotic, cool. Too bad tea hasn't managed to do that on a bigger level here yet!

Tea industry, we have to be able to compete! These ads are WAY better than our ads and (as you can see) they've been around for much longer (in the U.S.) and are way edgier (around the world). Part of the issue is money, as you can learn in somebody's Powerpoint presentation on coffee advertising budgets, but part of it is an issue of cultural identification. We need to finally embrace the idea that tea is cool (at least in the U.S.)! After all, which is the unusual, exotic beverage (in the U.S.)? Which makes you feel better for longer? Which is embraced by tech rock stars like Kevin Rose? Which is the beverage of choice of foodies in-the-know? We can do this, people. I want to see innovation! After all, you weren't attracted to tea because it was the same-old thing, right? Why make commercials that make it seem like something boring that you only drink for health? Or just another goofy ad for another random product?

(Side note one: I'll probably post some weird tea commercials from Asia soon. (There are plenty to choose from.) Look out for it!

Side note two: If you can't do ads, at LEAST do press releases. Don't have time? I write them. Contact me at vee (at) veetea (dot) com for details.)

4 comments:

Griffin said...

First off, let me say that Lipton Sombras ad from Portugal is awesome. You really hit the nail on head here, Lindsey. Tea isn't advertised and it's horrible. But, I think the problem with tea is that it is such a different thing. You do have to go seek it out in order to enjoy it. It's most definitely a niche, whereas coffee is a massively propagated wave of western culture. However, that is the only problem with tea really. It's because of it being "secret" that people often will not talk about it. On the other side of things, coffee has many problems with it; however, that is a huge discussion for another time. Thanks for the post and exhortation to get out there! I'll definitely see what I can do in regards to advertising. Maybe even come up with a couple press releases of my own. :-) Keep up the good work!

Steph said...

Wow - What a list. Thanks for doing this research!

Jason Witt said...

I think it's sad that coffee is believed to be "sexy" as a product and lifestyle and that tea isn't. But that's more due to attitudes already in place for the common culture than to failure of ads. What amount of advertising would it take to change these views? --Jason

VeeTea said...

Griffin -- Good point. In the U.S. and parts of Europe, tea is still rare compared to coffee. However, even in countries where it is not rare, the ads tend to have a different (less young, less sexy, less fun) image going on. I wonder what will happen with tea's image as it becomes more mainstream in the U.S.

Steph -- Gladly. :)

Jason -- Good question. Tea was traditionally advertised as sexy and exotic in Europe. Images of young, attractive women plucking tea were used in ads, and there were stories about how all the tea pluckers were required to be virgins, to increase the sexy/exotic branding of the product. Ads are still a part of the puzzle, but not as important as they were, as traditional ads are less effective than they used to be in the U.S. However, viral ads and branding can still be very effective. Given tea's current rep as a product you seek out, I think it's very conducive to viral ads, especially if they are chic or funny. Beyond that, I think that rebranding tea on a business-by-business basis will be imperative to an American shift in ideas about tea.