Tea Council changes tactics to target youth

For centuries, tea has been recognized for its health benefits in cultures across the globe. Even in the US, the world's second-most-consumed beverage (after water) is the go-to brew when throats are itchy or aches set in.

For centuries, tea has been recognized for its health benefits in cultures across the globe. Even in the US, the world's second-most-consumed beverage (after water) is the go-to brew when throats are itchy or aches set in.

Contemporary outreach that touts tea's health benefits helps nonprofit reach a new audience

For centuries, tea has been recognized for its health benefits in cultures across the globe. Even in the US, the world's second-most-consumed beverage (after water) is the go-to brew when throats are itchy or aches set in. But when the Tea Council of the USA sought to bring that healthy-choice message to young, mainstream Americans, the nonprofit turned to the most contemporary of outreach vehicles for help: Internet buzz, e-mail marketing, and American Idol.

"We used to have a shotgun approach to marketing tea," says Tea Council president Joseph Simrany. As the PR and educational arm of the Tea Association, a joint partnership of tea wholesalers, importers, shops, and other allied businesses unified in the name of tea promotion, the Tea Council for decades hosted activities meant to draw attention to the beverage's varied attributes.

The Alice in Wonderland-themed parties and special events with the Daughters of
the American Revolution were lovely, but ineffective. "They had the most impact amongst people already drinking tea: older females," Simrany notes.

Keeping in line with major consumer trends, the Tea Council changed from "a shotgun to a rifle approach," Simrany says, focusing its outreach efforts solely on tea's purported health benefits: relaxation, reduced risk of heart disease, and lowered cholesterol, to name a few. By doing this, he says, the Tea Council not only broadened tea's appeal within its traditional demographic, but also introduced it to entirely new consumers. Tea went from "a commodity [for which] you didn't give a second thought to a product you want in the house," Simrany says.

In every house, it seems. In the US alone, according to Seattle-based "tea think tank" the Sage Group, the tea market has tripled since the early '90s; the now $6.8 billion industry is abuzz with health-conscious messages, thanks in particular to studies documenting the antioxidant properties of green tea, as well as the recent growth in popularity of specialty teas among the baby boomer generation. For many reasons, however - some historical, some cultural, and many marketing-oriented - young, mainstream Americans have been slower to get the "drink tea" memo.

To address this, last year, the Tea Council decided to specifically engage the younger generation. For the first time in the group's more than 60-year history, it introduced a program aimed at 20-something college students, called the Calm-A-Sutra of Tea, says Kevin Hughes, SAE at Pollock Communications, the Tea Council's AOR. "We really wanted to branch out to a younger group with new, edgy, and fun ideas," he explains - ideas meant to encourage this target audience to include tea as part of its daily lifestyle.

In April, the Tea Council launched a nationwide scholarship competition awarding one student $20,000 toward his or her education. Launched simultaneously on CBS' The Early Show and YouTube, the contest called for students to submit a short Internet video documenting the most creative way to drink black, green, white, or oolong tea, explained in a way that incorporated some aspect of tea's health-related benefits. The effort also included an information-packed Calm-A-Sutra of Tea Web site and an e-mail promotion that reached 50,000 high school and college students via financial aid offices and guidance counselors.

In addition, to coincide with the 2007 American Idol finale, the Tea Council
partnered with first-season runner-up Justin Guarini as the official Calm-A-Sutra of Tea spokesman.

As well as being "an avid tea drinker, for good vocal health," Hughes says, Guarini strongly supports the Tea Council's platform on education. "In terms of our choice of celebrity, we're hitting on two different causes that he cares about."

Equally as important, he adds, Guarini has a strong, Web-active fan base.

"[Guarini's] fans had a lot to do with spreading the [Tea Council's] message," Hughes notes. "As soon as his manager posted the [scholarship] news on [Guarini's] Web site, fans basically linked and linked and linked... We wanted to create a viral Internet buzz and chatter, and we did."

Beyond these initial efforts, the Tea Council continues to target bloggers, Web publications, and online chat rooms with new messages meant to engage younger, mainstream consumers, Simrany says. Sharing information about tea's impact on the environment, international employment, and sustainability and fair-trade issues "demonstrates to people that when they drink tea, they're helping themselves and other people," as well, he says. Those are messages with which young Americans can relate.

While these efforts have had a significant influence on consumers, an additional benefit is the message sent to its membership, Simrany says. "If our membership likes [and] appreciates what we do, they will emulate what we do [and] magnify our efforts by doing their own," he explains. "There's still work to do, but I believe it's happening."


AT A GLANCE

Company: The Tea Council of the USA

President: Joseph Simrany

Headquarters: New York

Key trade titles: Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, Fresh Cup

Marketing/PR budget: Less than $300,000

Marcomms team:
No formal team, but the organization relies on various committee members to serve as marketing spokespeople based on specific needs

Marketing Services Agencies:
PR agency: Pollock Communications

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