When It Comes to Tea, Promoting the Power of the Plant

A print ad for Traditional Medicinals, a maker of herbal teas, created by a Minneapolis agency, Haberman.

Decades ago, “flower power” was shorthand for a philosophy of peace and love. Today, a marketer in the growing field of wellness products is inviting tea drinkers to love the benefits of “plant power.”

The marketer is Traditional Medicinals,which sells more than 50 varieties of herbal tea with groovy names like Easy Now, Echinacea Plus, Mother’s Milk, Nighty Night, Roasted Dandelion Root, Smooth Move and Throat Coat. The campaign, now underway, carries the theme “Plant power for a better you.”

The campaign is being created by an agency in Minneapolis, Haberman, that Traditional Medicinals hired in August for tasks like advertising, public relations, media buying and social media. Before that, the company worked with agencies that included Egg in Seattle.

Haberman styles itself as providing “modern storytelling for pioneers” and, in this instance, the story being told is how Traditional Medicinals, a pioneer in the herbal-tea category for four decades, offers products that are “created by herbalists” with ingredients good enough to be called “pharmacopoeial grade” — that is, adhering to high standards.

Or, as text on the home page of the Traditional Medicinals website puts it, “We’re plant-loving, dirt-digging herb nerds with an almost uptight obsession for high quality.”

The campaign includes print, digital and mobile ads; public relations; a presence on social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter; and so-called brand publishing, sponsored content in realms like the Traditional Medicinals website where visitors will be able to read entries in a “Plant Power Journal.”

The budget for the campaign is estimated at $2 million. Ad spending by Traditional Medicinals totaled $1.1 million last year, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, and $3 million in 2012.

The campaign is indicative of the increasing interest among shoppers in wellness products, an amorphous term that can refer to beverages like the Traditional Medicinals teas as well as foods, exercise and diet regimens, yoga clothing, how-to books and even spa vacations. An article in the November issue of Real Simple magazine calls wellness a $3.4 trillion industry.

In the tea market, Traditional Medicinals faces direct competition from wellness and natural brands like Yogi, which promotes how its teas “support” benefits like “energy, clarity, awareness and general feel-goodness.”

(Words like “support” and “supports” often appear in marketing for dietary supplements along with a disclaimer that the statements made in marketing the product “have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration” and the product “is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” That disclaimer appears in ads and on packages of Traditional Medicinals products.)

Mainstream teas are also eyeing the wellness tea drinker. For instance, ads for Twinings herbal teas promise to “satisfy all your senses.”


That does not surprise Carl Henrickson, senior brand manager of Traditional Medicinals in Sebastopol, Calif. “Herbalism has become more and more mainstream,” he says, and “we’ve seen such an increase in interest” in the company’s philosophy along with its teas.

“We’re building a tribe of plant people,” Mr. Henrickson says. “The campaign educates and encourages people to embrace plant power, building on the idea that plants possess great power, something we’ve known for centuries.”

Traditional Medicinals is not alone in invoking that concept. Ads for Silk soymilk carry the headline “Power up with the goodness of plant protein.”

And ads for a beverage more potent than soymilk or tea, Abelour single malt Scotch whisky, describe how the story of the brand’s distillery goes back “to the ancient druids who revered the pure water from the surrounding area for centuries.”

The Traditional Medicinals campaign represents “an evolution of what we’ve been doing the last few years,” Mr. Henrickson says, dating to a rebranding that included new package designs.

The company is concentrating on elements like its use of “high-quality plants,” the creation of its teas “by herbalists” and its commitment “to socially and environmentally responsible practices,” he adds.

Among those practices is a pledge that “100 percent of our teas are Non-GMO Project verified,” Mr. Henrickson says, referring to a seal from a nonprofit organization that monitors the use of genetically modified organisms. And most of the Traditional Medicinals products also carry the U.S.D.A. Organic seal from the United States Department of Agriculture.

One print ad in the campaign, for the organic Throat Coat tea, reads: “If, like us, you’re vocal about sustainability, you’ll like that we partner with rural Appalachian families who harvest limited amounts of slippery elm to help, well, make you even more vocal. Literally.”

Another print ad, for the organic Echinacea Plus tea, begins, “A sure sign of premium echinacea, used by a number of Native American tribes for hundreds of years, is a tingly tongue at first sip.

“In addition to the tingling,” the ad concludes, “after a while you’ll also feel something else: Like yourself again.”

Both ads depict women drinking cups of Traditional Medicinals tea, reflecting that women are the primary target audiences for the campaign.

“We’re looking at primarily two audience segments,” says Renee Rice, an account director at Haberman: “the ‘active adopters,’ who are younger, 25 to 35, and the ‘healthy believers,’ roughly between 45 and 55.

“The commonalities are that they understand what’s in the products they purchase, they have a deeper connection to nature and they have a desire for knowledge,” she adds. “And they have an appreciation for plants and the benefits plants can bring.”

“We’ve tapped into that with this campaign, telling deeper stories behind the plants,” Ms. Rice says. “A lot of consumers are becoming more in touch with what’s in their food and where it comes from, and there’s more interest in natural options for wellness.”

Ms. Rice’s husband, Nathan Rice, who is director for connection and engagement at Haberman, says that to better connect with those consumers, “we’re using a brand-publishing model to tell authentic stories about the tea.”

An inspiration for the campaign, Mr. Rice says, has been “looking at Instagram at what people are shooting.” The agency found numerous photographs that people took as they drank tea, he adds, citing as an example photos of them “wrapped up in a cozy blanket” as it rained.

“We’re asking for photos” like those from fans of Traditional Medicinals tea, Mr. Rice says, and they will be added to the Plant Power Journal online.

Content will also be shared with consumers in social media, he adds, particularly on Twitter, which he calls “a very powerful tool” for the brand because the target audiences “are heavy Twitter users.”

Ms. Rice says that some younger potential customers favor Instagram, while “some in their 40s and 50s might be on Facebook, reading magazines or online.”

The magazines carrying the print ads include Cooking Light, Dr. Oz The Good Life, Eating Well, Organic Gardening, Real Simple, Women’s Health and Yoga Journal. The digital elements of the campaign are appearing on websites like AOL, Huffington Post and the Weather Channel (weather.com).

Brian Wachtler, president and partner at Haberman, says that the people at the agency working on the Traditional Medicinals account have been “spending a lot of time in” California visiting the company and learning about its “authentic story” so “we can start to help communicate the benefit of plant power.”

Those learnings also include an appreciation for the finer points of herbal tea.

“Of course, we’ve been sipping a lot of tea,” Ms. Rice says, advising tea drinkers to “make sure to let the tea steep for 10 to 15 minutes” for maximum flavor — even if “it seems like a long time.”

Her husband confesses he is not that patient.

Although “the herbalists will tell you the benefits are in the steeping,” Mr. Rice says, “I admittedly cheat on that time a lot.”

His waiting period is “more in the three- to five-minute range,” he adds, laughing.

If you like In Advertising, be sure to read the Advertising column that appears Monday through Friday in the Business Day section of The New York Times print edition and on nytimes.com.

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