Step over the dare-devilry and ride high on the ‘Baki Sab Bakwas’ imagery, at least that’s what the latest figures from Nielsen suggest. Living the thunder for over three decades, Thums Up has dominated the Indian fizzy drinks market. But now Sprite has dethroned Thums Up to become India’s largest soft drink brand. Interestingly, both of the beverage brands belong to Coca-Cola India’s portfolio. According to media reports sourced from Nielsen, Thums Up’s share for August was 15.3 per cent while that of Sprite was 15.6 per cent.
This clearly gives an indication about the preferences of Indian consumers, who are inclined to lemon’s natural taste that is common even with the lowest denominator. Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults believes that historically, ‘nimbu pani’ is the most popular drink in the country given the hot climate, and a lime drink overtaking a cola is nothing surprising. However, it cannot be forgotten that cola is only driven by marketing power. Given the power shortage and lack of chilling capabilities in India, along with the added benefit of the lime drink tasting fine even when it’s not cold unlike a cola, gives it an upper-edge.
According to Anand Halve, Co-founder, Chlorophyll, there is a tendency to get carried by away by point estimates, despite the fact that data collection is not so robust in India and the sample size is subject to errors. “A 15.6 per cent or 15.3 per cent doesn’t make such a dramatic difference so as to fire the brand manager on Coca-Cola. However, all this debate apart, the truth is that Sprite has made enormous progress over the years,” he said.
Before Coca-Cola or Pepsi came into the market, Limca was the biggest drink in the country for many years. But Limca was ignored by the Coca-Cola Company; they didn’t even advertise Limca and Thums Up. “It’s was sheer corporate ego that how can a locally produced brand be bigger. But Thums Up refused to die; they then decided to support Thums Up, which became the most popular brand followed by Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Sprite and Mountain Dew,” Halve added.
About three years ago, the beverage giant discovered that a clear drink is preferable to a fully- carbonated drink. Hence, they started supporting Sprite with campaigns such as ‘Clear Hai’ and ‘Seedhi Baat No Bakwas’. Today, brand Sprite has become synonymous to an honest, no-nonsense attitude and the recent ‘Chalo Apni Chaal’ reinforces this positioning. It is a drink for those who are confident and have the innovativeness to rise up against challenges. Sprite has always stood for 'Fresh Thinking' and coming up with clever solutions for problems. This is a great positioning, which is far away from the high pressure image selling.
Halve explained that these campaigns would not have worked without the errors made by the other two cola brands. “The bigger mistake was by Pepsi; earlier it was a young, slightly mischievous and playful brand with campaigns such as ‘Yehi Hai Right Choice Baby’, ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’, ‘Nothing Official About It’ that had a cult value. But recently, the campaigns have stopped being goofy and have become aspirational in a predictable way. It lost out even further with the ‘Oh Yes Abhi’, which is neither aspirational nor has a cult value,” Halve stated.
Thums Up also made a mistake by roping in Mahesh Babu (South Indian actor), along with a bunch of people performing death-defying stunts for ‘Aaj Kuch Toofani Karte Hai’ – it sounds like a bad copy of Mountain Dew. According to Halve, the thunder got muted because the brand was perceived as a solo rider, with Akshay Kumar having supreme confidence like the Marlboro Man. The magic was that he rides alone and doesn’t need friends or family. Roping in Salman Khan overshadowed the brand with him being the hero and not the brand.
Hence, these cola brands started fading out in terms of communication due to lack of creative ideas. Even after spending the most on Thums Up with brand endorsements by Bollywood’s most expensive stars such as Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan, the brand has been overshadowed by the witty campaigns of Sprite that has never used big stars.
Sprite has the hit right chords by adopting a sharp and focussed imagery of challenging the cultural code with lateral thinking and talking ‘Seedhi Baat’. So no surprise if it becomes the largest soft drink brand.