Clear hai - Sprite has stolen the Thanda from flagship brand Coke to emerge as the number two brand within the Coca-Cola India portfolio. The clear lime beverage now trails brand Thums Up, which is the No 1 brand in the Indian market. According to sources within the company, Coca-Cola India will end the year with sales of 215 million cases out of the industry size of 450 million cases.
Thums Up accounts for nearly 30% of its sales at around 50 million cases, and Sprite is now selling 40 million cases, with flagship brand, Coca-Cola clearly at number three with 32 million cases. This might make India a unique market for Coca-Cola - one in which its flagship brand Coca-Cola (ranked as the most valuable brand in the world by Interbrand in its Best Brands 2006 ranking, with a brand valuation of $67 billion) is now in third position within the portfolio.
“This has been the trend for nearly two years now,” a source in Coca-Cola said. Sprite has been climbing up on the strength of communication focused squarely on a youth market, together with strong distribution, which have supported its growing popularity amongst Indian consumers. Also, the rise is attributed to the fact that there has been a general shift towards clear lime and orange segment from the dark cola segment. The pesticide controversy which impacted the cola brands has also played a role in pushing Sprite up the ladder.
When Coca-Cola acquired Thums Up from Parle on its return to the Indian market in 1993, it was seen as a mere stepping stone on the company's path to growth. The conventional wisdom in the market then was that Coca-Cola would put brand Thums Up on the back burner in order to push Coke as its No 1 brand in the country. But despite having the largest share of the company's marketing and ad budget, Coke failed to match up to the brand equity the indigenous brand Thums Up had built over the years.
When contacted by email, an official response from the company said that as part of its overall growth plan, Coca-Cola in India followed a dual cola strategy which involves brand Thums Up and Coca-Cola together gaining the largest marketshare within the cola segment. Coca-Cola India said that its other brands have also done equally well and have emerged as market leaders in their respective segments.
“With both set of brands being leaders in their respective consumer segments, comparing Coca-Cola/Thums Up with Sprite is not fair. It's like comparing apples with oranges,” the statement said.
While there are markets in which Coca-Cola's leading brands are non-colas, India is an oddity for the simple reason that the company's leading brand is a cola that isn't Coke. “Coke has never been able to acquire a clear messaging after its famous Thanda campaign,” said a senior advertising professional.
And while the company played around with the positioning of Thums Up, it has now reverted to the classic line used even before the acquisition - “Taste the thunder.” Meanwhile, Sprite's youthful and matter-of-fact positioning, including the latest “Clear Hai” campaign, allowed the brand to sneak up into the second spot within the portfolio.
And if sources are right, Coke may face a new offensive: “Coke possibly will be fighting Fanta on numbers as well as the orange category is also growing faster than the cola category,” an industry insider said. According to Coke officials, the company's entire portfolio has seen a 4% growth in unit case volume in the quarter ending September 2006.
Sprite's positioning in India is in line with the brand's successful strategy in the US, where it had to counter diminishing volume and marketshare in 2005. Sprite then went in for a complete overhaul with a successful re-launch and re-design of Sprite with the line 'Obey your thirst'.
Incidentally, this re-launch of Sprite in the US was handled by Venkatesh Kini, who recently took over as vice president (marketing), Coca-Cola India, and who had earlier handled the launch of Sprite in India in 1999. “
The entire brand persona of Sprite is such that it connects with the youth in a refreshingly honest manner. It is this innovative positioning and the unmatched experience which has made brand Sprite a leader in the clear lime segment in India,” the official statement says. You can say that again: Bujhaye pyaas, baaki sab bakwaas.