Confucius Says: Drink Salada

If Confucius were drinking tea today, his brand of choice would surely be Salada. As he drank in the flavor the orange pekoe and contemplated the meaning of life, he would have appreciated the pearl of wisdom on the back of those unassuming red octagons.

After all, who could fail to be inspired by lines like "If you don't try, you can't fail" or "Your thoughts can't soar if you think like a turkey." Certainly it is not possible to resist the wit behind such zingers as "apartment hunting...scouring for a pad" or "Shakespeare ode much to publishers," And even the greatest literature cannot match such insights into the humanity as "Laughter is the shock absorber of life's blows" or "No one is a failure who is enjoying life."

These pithy maxims and precepts represent nothing less than the distilled wisdom of the ages, a Ten (Thousand) Commandments for a generation of tea drinkers. Surely such wisdom can only come from someone who spends his life in constant meditation, carving his maxims into stone tablets and passing them on to his disciples to disseminate in the form of Tag Lines--the wise, bearded Salada man.

Alas, there is no Salada Claus. The real gurus are a bunch of ordinary Joes like Salada employees and humor writers and occasionally even (Gasp)! advertising agencies.

Just imagine--slick, unscrupulous admen coming up with the lines in between shots at their mini-basketball net ["Hey Michael, how about this one: `Smart golfers never play through without a tea.' (Swish) "sounds great, Elliot! Whaddaya' think about `if you need to get somewhere, take the Tea.' (Swish)].


The good folks at Salada, however, maintain that the saying serve a higher purpose. Although the Tag Lines were the brainchild of a Salada ad man--one John W. Colpitts in 1962--the purpose behind them has never been a "commercial one, but mainly one of public service," according to Gerry J. Doutre, the president of the company that owns Salada. The idea behind the Tag Lines is to the give tea drinkers "something to do while you dangle," as an old advertising campaign ran.

But there is no doubt that Salada takes their saying the seriously. A Salada promotional brochure from the 1960s reads: "The sayings fall into the categories of Witty, Philosophical, Inspirational, and Humorous; many are Maxims for Daily Living in Brief Form [MDLBFs, of course], while some are really Home Truths which Really `Hit the Nail On The Head' [HTWRHTNOTHs, for those in the know]."

The categories give rise to great debates such as whether the observation that "a successful supervisor knows how to delegate the blame" is a HTWRHTNOTH or a MDLBF.

Salada researchers discovered that in the 1950s tea drinker had begun brewing tea right in the cup instead of in teapots. The idea of giving customers something to do while their tea steeped fit well with Salada's claim that theirs was the "world's slowest teabag," the assumption being that the longer the steeping takes, the better the flavor.

According to Doutre, a particularly successful advertising campaign in the midsixties recounted the plight of the mythical American Federation of Gypsies as they sought in vain to get Salada to stop putting fortunes on their tea bags. As the story in the ad went, the Tag Lines were driving the gypsies out of business.

The five-and-a-half minute-long radio commercial described the picketing activities of the Salada factory, which was then located in Woburn, and invited listeners to listen to the "heart-rending tale of the gypsies," No "War of the Worlds," but a fine fabrication nonetheless.

Today, there are 195 Tag Lines in circulation, although the company hasused well over 2,000 different saying since their introduction in 1962.

The supply is periodically replenished by write-in contests and the efforts of various adverstising agencies, although some are direct quotes from famous people (four from Benjamin Franklin, one each from Confucius, Thomas Edison and Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Doutre says that the current purpose of the Tag Lines is "to provide pithy, cogent comments on today's living conditions, not be controversial or political." He admits, however, that his company receives periodic complaints about certain Tag Lines, particularly those that concern lawyers.

"Every once in a while, we'll get a letter or a call saying `No, we don't exactly agree with that.' It's happened a couple of times with the ones about lawyers," says Doutre. Perhaps the attorneys in the Kalahari felt they were being defamed by the charge that "verbose tribal lawyers beat around the bush."

Indeed, today's Tag Lines seem to lack the inspirational quality of their ancestors. Among the original batch, the Tag Lines carried instructive messages like "Great men never fell great, small men never feel small," and "The opportunity of a lifetime is seldom so labelled."

Perhaps it's emblematic of our society that today's Tag Lines seem much more concerned with being clever ("When you tease someone under a pine tree, you needle them") and cynical ("A woman who tells her weight has nothing to lose") than with promoting moral righteousness and responsibility ("When the wells dry, we know the worth of water").

Maybe what we need to get this country back on track are some better Salada Tag Lines. Tag lines like they had in the sixties, when John F. Kennedy asked Americans to make sacrifices for their country. Maybe what President Bush and Governor Clinton should be doing is drinking more tea.

Or maybe what we really need is for the wise, bearded Salada man to come down from his mountaintop and run for the president.