Thums Up does a Pepsi on Pepsi

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 01, 2001
The Thums Up taste-challenge thrown by Coke has created quite a stir. But is it an effort by the Cola major to pre-empt the Pepsi Challenge that is being revived internationally?


The purpose has been served.

Even as the cola majors continue their verbal fisticuffs, both Thums Up and Pepsi have successfully made consumers sit up and take notice just before the onset of summer. Thanks to the Thums Up 'taste challenge' commercial. The campaign comes as the cola market in India remains stagnant over the past few years with the huge sums of money splurged by the soft drinks majors failing to expand the market in any significant way.

What is more interesting is that in the US, Pepsi-Cola Co hopes to restart the war against rival Coca-Cola Co by bringing back its Pepsi Challenge promotional campaign for the first time in 17 years. The second biggest soft drink company in the US kicks off the new campaign during the Academy Awards telecast on ABC this Sunday with a commercial featuring baseball superstar Ken Griffey Jr. hitting baseballs that invite consumers to compare the taste of Pepsi with its bigger rival, Coca-Coca Classic.

Pepsi-Cola plans to conduct demonstrations at ballparks, concert arenas and other venues across the country in which consumers can conduct blind taste tests of Pepsi and Coke and decide which tastes better. But this won't be the first time that Pepsi will take Coke head on in that market.

The Pepsi Challenge first appeared in 1975 as a local promotion in Dallas and gradually expanded nationally before halting in 1983. But Pepsi executives say the promotions were one factor behind Coca-Cola's ill-fated introduction of New Coke to replace traditional Coke in 1985. A consumer outcry drove Coca-Cola to bring back the original flavor as Coca-Cola Classic within a few months.

The question is: Is the current Thums Up taste-test an attempt to thwart the possible launch of the Pepsi Challenge in India?

Anisha Motwani, vice-president, Leo Burnett, Delhi, scoffs at the idea. "The Thums Up challenge is an absolutely original idea," she says. "This ad was developed over the last three-four months. We had no clue whatsoever that Pepsi was reviving the challenge in the US. The two brands have always fought in the market - more so at a strategy level. Now we are ready to take them head on as we have research data to back up our claim. Now, if you pit one brand directly against the other, then it assumes the aura of a 'challenge'. So that's what we are calling it."

She says that the technique used to shoot the film, candid camera, in a way reinforces the fact that the ad is about the way people actually perceive of the two drinks. "We are only trying to show in the form of a television commercial what people have actually told us during the course of our survey. And we found that they look at Thums Up as a macho cola."

For its part, Pepsi rubbishes Thums Up's claims of being "a macho drink" and says the company has no intentions of bringing the Pepsi challenge in India. A top company executive says, "You can be the challenger if you are the number two or three in the market. So why would we do the challenge here? The logic doesn't work! We are already number one here." He says that Pepsi leads the Rs 3,000-crore cola market with 50 per cent share, with Coke and Thums Up filling up the balance 50 per cent between the two of them. Alongside, in an interview to a financial daily, Pepsi quotes a recent IMRB study which clearly shows that Pepsi is the preferred drink among all groups - both against Thums Up and Coke.

While checking on the details of the Pepsi-IMRB study, agencyfaqs! made an interesting discovery. An ex-IMRB hand pointed out, "There is no study which Pepsi has done in last two to three years to check out which cola tastes best. Colas sell on perception rather than on taste. If one were to check out the actual taste preference, one needs to check that out in a 'Blind Taste' format. But Pepsi has not done any blind taste tests. What Vibha (Vibha Paul Rishi, Pepsi executive vice-president, who has been quoted by the financial daily) is talking of is their 'consumer track', which they run in five cities, and which is geared towards catching the brand image and awareness data. The study gets preference scores on the basis of image and not taste, which Thums Up is claiming."

He also says these figures include Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi figures where Thums Up's presence is quite weak. "Let Pepsi give these figures for Calcutta and Mumbai combine and that would tell you how worried Pepsi really is. Thums Up would lead Pepsi in these two cities in the 21-plus age group," he says.

As it emerges, Pepsi shot an ad in the blind-taste format in 1994-95 with Pooja Bhatt as the protagonist. While this ad was supposed to demonstrate that Pepsi tastes better, it never saw the light of the day because the claim could not be corroborated by Pepsi's research findings!

As the cola drama refuses to draw curtains, one thing is clear: Thums Up has finally found its rightful place in the Coca-Cola India portfolio.

© 2001 agencyfaqs!


Thums Up challenges Pepsi on taste