Elevation of Tea for the Masses?
According to the tabloids and the Internet, Lady Gaga is now the face of tea. She has been seen and captured sporting a cup of tea during numerous occasions, and insists on drinking it in her own china before every performance or appearance. The grand extent of her fame makes her a very influential celebrity, creating cult-like obsessions in gullible viewers over her lifestyle. In fact, Time magazine lists her as one of the 100 Most Influential Celebrities in the World, and likewise, Forbe’s magazine lists her as one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. No wonder many tea companies are making large bids to have Lady Gaga as a spokesperson for their brand.
Tea companies like Twinings are trying their best to have Lady Gaga as the representative of their brand. Twinings has even created an oriental flavor for Lady Gaga. They offered her a multi-million pound contract with the intent that her tea promotion increases sales, especially by appealing to the youth who often indulge in popular culture. But what is it about attaching a celebrity’s name or face to a brand that makes the product more marketable?
As I mentioned in my previous blog, people like to consider themselves as sophisticated or fancy, even if only by imitation. I think consumers like you and I have an affinity for products that are well marketed, especially if it is supported by a popular figure like Oprah, because it looks more “legit”, as some would say. We like to assume that products that are more costly, aesthetically appealing, and reinforced by well-known names are probably the best of its kind. Though there may be a correlation, these attributes are not a reliable caliber because the popularity of products highly corresponds to marketing strategy.
The irony to me is that, although Lady Gaga is a paradox, we still hold her in high regards and as an example to model. People would say she exudes sophistication with her pose, glamorous outfits and tea-drinking habits, but what about her repulsive meat dress and new perfume that is said to intentionally smell like blood and semen? Surely there’s no class in that. What are we thinking?
Strangely, Simmel’s philosophy of objects and our valuation of them become blurred here. Fans hold Lady Gaga in high esteem, and certainly tea companies yearn for her endorsement. So with her elevation comes the elevation of tea too right? But the central goal of tea companies is to have their brand universally consumed to reap the most profits. If Lady Gaga is to be a model exemplar through the media who can elevate the value of tea in the view of other individuals, does she necessarily need to be accessible and commonplace to bring tea down to a democratic value for tea companies to get the most out of their investments?
Perhaps one resolution is that Lady Gaga fans will aspire to drink tea because they hold her in high esteem and want to model themselves after her. And on the other hand, tea companies may not think of Lady Gaga as much more than an engine for their profits, effectively “lowering” tea value to a more affordable, aware fanbase that will purchase their products. Tea thus may assume both a high and low value if Lady Gaga’s promotion will satisfy both her fans and her funders.
Media’s Distortion of Space and Time for the (Un)Willing Consumer
Our society seems to indulge in a false sense of sophistication. We buy fancy shoes and clothing we can hardly afford to appear fashionable. We buy purified water because we are convinced that drinking tap water is uncouth. We buy, buy, and buy to attain a social stamp of approvable that delivers an irrational satisfaction. Can we blame the media for our over-the-top cravings for things out of our league? In one day, we see hundreds of advertisements, in which billions of dollars are spent toward warping social standards and values. Media has elevated the simple things in life to the standards of the rich or famous to profit from our naivete. As a result, we perform parodies and imitations of the things we perceive as fancy, which ironically emphasizes the social divisions between upper and lower classes.
A great example is tea, which can be considered the universal drink of all social stratums as it is commercially accessible and relatively cheap off supermarket shelves. However, with the depiction of teatime in movies like Pride and Prejudice, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Alice in Wonderland, drinking tea is still associated with the sophistication of the upper class. Consequently, instead of brewing their own cup of tea, some people go to elaborate tearooms, like Mrs. Burton’s Tea Room in San Diego, that imitate the congregation of tea drinkers in the Victorian tradition. Here, visitors would come dressed up in large flowered hats and gloves to have scones and tea on mismatched China. The existence and continued business at these locales suggest that people seek the imitated refinement associated with the elite class to feel a distinction from the masses that is perhaps lacking in their everyday lives.
It’s Not the Tea but the Branding that Gets You Buying!
It is the beginning of a new year, so what better time to create more hopeful resolutions? Mine was to make the conversion from coffee to tea to give my cholesterol levels a break. I went to Peet’s Coffee & Tea in search of an alternative to my favorite tea- black tea. I found that there were many different types which included green, black, white, oolong, pu-erth, formed or compressed tea bricks, flavored and herbal tea. And within these categories were varying blends and preparation processes. I stood there perplexed by the number of choices before me. How do I choose which one I would like best without tasting it?
I couldn’t ask the barista to let me try them all, and I’d rather not ask what he or she recommends based on their preference. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was least likely to be the taste of the tea that will win me over. Perhaps admitting my less-than-connoisseur convictions, I found myself drawn toward the appearance of the tea containers. I noticed that each were differently advertised, interestingly based on the emotions they were to evoke. There was a sign that said "Top Sellers" and below it were fancy names, sophisticated fonts and royal colors, and well-chosen rhetoric describing from which luscious land the tea was derived. One was even titled “Assam Extra Fancy.” Moreover, the store attempted to create a feeling of authenticity with wooden paneled walls and counters, and classical music as if to allude to the atmosphere of Great Britain tea houses.
Here is a label example:
Jasmine Downy Pearls
This green tea is rolled into pearl-shaped balls, then scented with jasmine flowers. The flavor is smooth with a light floral scent.
This is a unique and beautiful tea from Fujian province, China. To make this tea, women selectively pluck only the youngest leaves, covered with a fine down. Three leaves are rolled together into a spherical “pearl” and then wrapped in silk mesh and dried by fire to set the form. Each pearl is streaked with the pale white down of the buds. Scenting the pearls twice with fresh jasmine flowers gives the finished tea its final character.
These signs, labels, and simulations of authenticity are all tactics prevalent in today’s market. I believe it is no longer true personal preference, but merely predetermined decisions made by the manufacturing industries on which items we will purchase by controlling our visual perception through advertisements. When I walk into a CVS next door, the reason I pick up Neutrogena’s facewash instead of the generic CVS brand that claims to have the same formula is unknown to me. It is sad to realize that the commercial industries have successfully indoctrinated consumers like myself with such irrational ideas.
These commercial ploys lead to some loss of culture and identity, as new traditions are no longer created but only old ones are simulated. It is as if one were adopting a fake culture. Perhaps it is very American to buy tea from any ordinary grocery store. If I were to buy a hot cup of tea at Peet’s, I would be cognizant that I was paying for a prepared product and would go next door to CVS to pick up a box of Lipton’s to prepare at home. But for some reason, the branding and marketing for these tins of tea convinced me that they were worth more and appended a “culture” to their products, causing me to feel like I was making a less “commercial” choice. I ended up purchasing Jasmine Downy Pearls based on the description on the container. Looking back, was this really a non-commercial product as compared to the cheaper boxes of tea at the grocery store? A victory for Peet’s Coffee and Tea and their strategic appeal to buyer’s psychology. The funny thing is that the advertising was right -the tea was amazing.