It's an old Coca-Cola strategy, even on the global level. And it goes like this: Never pitchfork Coke in a direct confrontation with Pepsi, irrespective of whatever potshots the No. 2 cola takes at Coke. Instead, use the other soft drink brands in the portfolio to hit back. And internationally, Coca-Cola has been using Sprite to this end with good effect.
Of course, in that sense, Coca-Cola India has a distinct advantage. For not only can it use Sprite, it also has another flanker in local cola brand Thums Up. And in the past, Coca-Cola India has used Thums Up towards this end. Remember the 'Don't be a bandar…' and 'Don't be a machchar…' ads?
Now, with the sweltering summer just round the corner in India, Coke has again taken the fight to the streets with Thums Up. And by playing the Pepsi-tastes-sweet card, it is looking to reposition Pepsi as a drink for kiddos. So, a couple of weeks ago, TV channels were full of a swaggering Salman Khan asking viewers if they had grown up to Thums Up.
Well, that was the teaser campaign. On Friday night, the real stuff happened. The commercial which broke Friday night is as follows. Salman Khan is seen conducting a blind test in what appears to be a college campus. He gets a volunteer, of whom he asks what his favourite drink is. The reply is 'sound blocked', but, of course, nobody is nobody's fool.
Salman than asks the teenager what constitutes a 'kid's drink'. Something that's sweet, the teenager grimaces. Salman then asks the volunteer to sample the two colas, and then asks him which is the drink with 'thunder'. The teenager points to one of the colas, which turns out to be Thums Up. Surprise, surprise, eh?
The other cola in the test is… well, never mind. And just in case the viewer still hasn't got the drift of the communication, Salman seals the issue by ribbing the teenager, "Dil maange more?" Actually, one viewer who saw the ad had a good idea - he said, "The line should actually have been 'Still maange more?'. That would have been more tongue-in-cheek." (Anyone at Leo Burnett listening?)
Of course, being tongue-in-cheek has not been Thums Up's forte. Even the 'bandar' and 'machchar' commercials were quite crude. In fact, even slapdash. Tongue-in-cheekiness and wit have been Sprite's bailiwick. One can't forget the work that McCann did on Sprite after the Shah Rukh-Kajol-Rani ad went on air.
In fact, after Pepsi's Preity Zinta-Jaggu commercial broke, there was this one-off press ad for Sprite that took the pants off Pepsi. The ad had a visual that showed man's evolution - from chimp to Neanderthal to modern-day man. The modern man was shown to be drinking Sprite, and the ad talked about how Sprite was the easiest way to progress from 'Jaggu' to gentleman. 'Man ki suno, monkey ki nahin' was the tagline. Maybe Coca-Cola India should have persevered with this line of thinking.
"Thums Up is a very rum-and-cola drink, and its imagery has always been very macho," says an ad industry veteran. "Pepsi and Sprite, on the other hand, are both cheeky and irreverent brands. And when you have cheeky brands, there's an intrinsic fun in comparative advertising - a lot of enjoyable one-upmanship and brownie points. Thums Up doesn't quite fit the bill on these terms, so I don't think Thums Up should get into a comparison war with Pepsi in the first place. As you can see, the Thums Up campaign is too serious."
agencyfaqs! tried its level best to get an official angle to the Thums Up campaign, but despite many promises from Coke to the effect that "you shall get all the answers", all we came up with was silence. And, of course, Leo Burnett would not talk without a nod from Coke.
One fact that agencyfaqs! has gathered is that the Thums Up campaign has its foundation in some market research conducted by an independent agency. Of course, it doesn't take genius - or research, for that matter - to figure out what the average consumer thinks about Thums Up. Nine out of 10 are likely to say Thums Up's distinctiveness is its strong taste.
Interestingly, the commercial carries a disclaimer, which says that the ad was developed on the basis of market research. "Seeing how serious Thums Up sounds about the whole thing, maybe Coke should have actually made 'candid camera' commercials of the blind test," says the industry veteran. "That would have looked a trifle more convincing."
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