Admari Tea's new website has two quotes that I want to highlight:
“A Buddhist monk once asked his master, ‘No matter what lies ahead, what is the Way?” The master quickly replied, “The Way is your daily life.’ This is the very essence of The Way of Tea. The principles of the Way of Tea are directed towards all of one’s existence, not just the part that takes place in the tearoom.” (Excerpt from Tea Life, Tea Mind by Soshitsu Sen XV)
And later on the page:
The way of tea is your daily life; your daily existence. The beautiful ritual of tea and respect for a simple ingredient, when done with reverence, can carry over, and bring meaning to every aspect of your life. At Admari Tea we recognize that in the modern world, the ritual must sometimes take a back seat to the hectic pace of life. So we are bringing the quality, the beauty and the reverence to you.
I totally understand that there is a large market for tea bags in this country, and globally, including a market for high-quality whole-leaf tea in pyramid sachets, and that companies are going to want to fill this business niche. However, there is something about the message being put forth by Admari tea that does not resonate well with me.
I want to go into depth about how I perceive this company's new message and marketing, because I think that the company's marketing has some negative elements to it that may alienate potential customers, and I think they can make a few simple modifications to the language in their new marketing that would help them to engage with potential customers in a more positive way. My remarks here may seem nitpicky, but I think they are important: sometimes tiny changes in wording can produce profound differences in how people react to language. I think the case below is one where a few very small changes could produce very large improvements in perception.
What are tea bags about?
Tea bags are about convenience. I have never heard any compelling argument in favor of tea bags, other than the convenience argument. Tea bags standardize the brewing process, save time, and allow people to brew tea with less equipment--all of these boil down to convenience. But tea bags require resources, which makes them inferior from a value and sustainability perspective. They also take away the control and flexibility of measuring out an exact amount of leaf, and they take away some of the possible benefits of using different brewing vessels or methods, such as mug brewing of loose-leaf tea. They are associated with a faster pace of life, which emphasizes quick and convenient consumption of food. On a spiritual level, they disconnect people from their tea and its origins; they move away from experiencing tea as a whole food and as slow food and move towards experiencing tea as an industrial product or consumer product.
It is certainly possible to experience tea more richly while using teabags, by being more mindful of the aromas, experiencing it as slow food, seeking out higher-quality tea, and putting care into brewing it, as I did in my post Multiple Infusions of a Tea Bag. But this type of experience is somewhat at odds with the experience of convenience and the fast pace of life.
A contradiction in marketing and message?
I think Admari tea is presenting a bit of a muddled message or apparent contradiction in their marketing. On the one hand, they're citing one of the quotes from the Sen Sōshitsu, referencing Buddhism, and talking about the "way of tea", the ritual of tea, respect for tea as an ingredient, and presenting a general approach of mindfulness about one's food. But on the other hand, they are caving into societal pressures. When they say: "...the ritual must sometimes take a back seat to the hectic pace of life." this seems like a cop-out to me.
And not only does this statement feel like a cop-out, it also feels like an intrusion or affront, like it is directly assaulting some core aspect of my beliefs or value system, and I imagine that many others may react similarly, even if they are not able to articulate it as thoroughly as I do here. Why?
A key issue is how they present "the hectic pace of life" as if it were a universal, immutable aspect of the world. Life is not inherently hectic or fast-paced. It can be fast-paced, or slow-paced, depending on who, where, and when you are talking about. A more honest way of wording this would be "...if your life is hectic or fast-paced..." or "...the hectic times in your life..." I also particularly object to the wording of their statement, using the word must. The hectic pace of our modern society is not inevitable, and, while some people are still caught up in it, it is not necessarily a good thing. And even when presented with hectic or fast-paced circumstances, people can respond in different ways, and often, the most productive and healthy way to react is to take a brief time for a meditative break, which, incidentally, one can sometimes do by taking the time to brew a cup of tea and drink it mindfully.
I think that statements that imply that the fast pace of life is somehow innate, universal, and unchangeable, actually cause harm by legitimizing the fast-pace of things even when it is harmful to people on a spiritual, physical, or emotional level, or harmful to society as a whole. And they cause harm by making people believe that life is always that way, and that one must cave into societal pressures to act and live that way, even when this way is destructive. A healthier viewpoint is one in which a person realizes that life will sometimes be fast-paced and other times slower, and that one can be empowered to influence the pace, speeding it up when it is too slow and slowing it down when it is too fast.
More, on the use of the term "reverence":
Another point which I object to occurs in the following sentence. After all the grandiose talk about the way of tea, their claim: "So we are bringing the quality, the beauty and the reverence to you" seems overstated, particularly in the use of the term reverence. Admari Tea is bringing a tea bag to the marketplace; it may have quality to back it up, and beauty, but reverence is something that you cannot package or sell as a product. Reverence is something that people must bring of their own accord to the way they experience tea. And I think that packaging a product in a tea bag actually places a barrier that makes it more difficult (although not impossible) to experience reverence for one's tea. To use this word, which typically is reserved for spiritual or religious topics, in the context of a consumer product, I think oversteps a boundary for me, and also elicits a negative reaction. Their use of the word reverence in this context seems to cheapen the word, and it strikes me as a bit irreverent.
Integrity in marketing:
I'm a big fan of honesty and integrity in marketing. Companies can and do market top-quality whole leaf tea in high-quality sachets. There is no guarantee that loose-leaf tea is better in quality than tea bags. Also, there is large existing market demand for tea bags, and I would not negatively judge a company just because they chose to sell tea bags (as I explain more in my recent post). But I do think that Admari Tea is trying to pull itself in two different directions here.
I think integrity in marketing is not just a question of simple factual matters, but also encompasses the spirit of the marketing. I object to some of their use of language in marketing, and as I am someone who tends not to be easily offended, I suspect that others may also react negatively as well, especially to their combination of referencing Buddhism and the Sen Sōshitsu, and using the word reverence, in the context of a move that most people would probably see as moving in the opposite direction, away from these concepts.
A recommendation for Admari Tea:
I think Admari Tea would benefit from softening their use of marketing in such a way that is more honest and avoids some of the apparent contradictions that I raised here, and I'd also suggest that they still offer some loose-leaf tea for sale, even if it is a slight inconvenience or results in a small financial loss. While it is understandable, given the constraints of market demand in our society, that some tea companies would choose to focus on tea bags, I think that it is important to always at least allow shoppers the option of the best possible choice, especially from the perspective of value and sustainability, which is loose-leaf tea. Both of these changes would make me think more favorable of them as a company. The indirect benefits to Admari Tea in terms of greater perception among serious tea drinkers and those with a more religious or spiritual inclination would more than offset any small financial loss associated with making these changes.
What do you think?
How do you react to the examples of Admari Tea's marketing that I gave here? How about other companies using similar language and rhetoric to market their products? Do you agree with my suggestions, or do you think you'd make different suggestions? Do you think that my suggestions would result in a tangible economic benefit to Admari Tea?