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Guest Article: Kurien Mathews: Limca comes full circle

A home-grown, powerful Indian brand, Limca has traversed a long path and maintained its mark despite the dominance of colas. As it re-visits its original positioning of quenching thirst, a look at its journey.

Limca recently announced that it was making a shift in its brand promise, from 'Taazgi' to 'Pyaas'.

afaqs.com, which ran the piece, said that the brand was taking a "fresh stance". But, later on in the same article, my friend Pops, the agency's NCD, is quick to clarify. To quote, "Limca's equity is its thirst-quenching ability and through this ad, we've taken the brand back to its original purpose."

Kurien Mathews

I had the good fortune of working with a few of the people who literally created the product and brand from scratch. I also got the opportunity to work on the brand after it was taken over by the Coca-Cola Company in 1994.

Reading Limca's announcement a few days ago made me smile. And, it brought back a lot of memories.

Limca was introduced in 1973. It was originally meant to be a clear lemon drink. The team at Radeus, the agency handling the new product (a clear lemon drink) was asked to come up with names for the beverage from the house of Parle.

The agency, headed by K Kurian (often spoken of as the father of Limca in the mid '80s and early '90s), came up with three suggestions:

1. Make the product cloudy, because that is what nimboo paani looks like.
2. Call it Limca (derived from Limboo Ka - or made of lime)
3. Make the product benefit thirst, with the tagline 'Thirst Choice'.

The clients (Parle - Chauhans) had no argument. The suggestions were very valid, and they held K Kurian's opinion in very high regard. At the end of it, it was about simplicity; simplicity of thought, simplicity in execution.

Radeus handled the brand from 1973 (the year the agency was founded) up to 1998 - 25 long years! In all those years it remained faithful to the 'thirst' proposition and the 'Thirst Choice' tagline. It was not easy!

Around this simple premise, Radeus created some very memorable advertising and other properties that became a part of the popular culture in the '70s, '80s and '90s. Remember Quiz Time? It was one of the earliest sponsored programmes on TV. Limca was almost embedded into the programme. Or the refrain, Limca, Limca? Or lime n' lemoni? Limca before, Limca after? The green waves. The bubbling audio mnemonic. They were all created by Radeus, and more specifically by the duo of K Kurian and Eustace Fernandes (also the creator of the Amul moppet). Sadly, both are no more.

Limca was a one-of-a-kind drink. It was the only 'cloudy' lemon drink in the world. By mid 1980, or thereabouts, it had become the largest selling soft drink in India, a feat (where a non-cola sales exceeds cola sales) equalled only by Dr. Pepper in the state of Texas for a brief period.

In the late 1980s, Limca was confronted by the BVO controversy. It caused cancer, they said. A malicious story planted by the competition, most insiders felt. By 1990, Limca was no longer India's No. 1.

Limca becoming India's favourite soft drink led to the agency recommendation that a property called the Limca Book of Records (LBR) be created (on the lines of the Guinness Book). The idea was an exhortation to all Indians to achieve, to break records and be celebrated for it. There are overtones of that thinking in the new Limca campaign this year.

In 1994, Limca also changed ownership, and was bought by the Coca-Cola Company from Parle. Young brand managers of Coca-Cola India started questioning the benefit, the positioning, the tagline. Was the advertising exciting enough? Have we had this look, feel, proposition and tagline for too long? Is it getting boring, without enough pizzazz? Let's refresh the brand, they insisted.

Slowly, the brand started to lose its iconic status. The colas took over again. There was a clear bias of the new brand owners towards the foreign brands, and colas always took precedence. As a result, though it was No. 2 in company sales numbers, in terms of company priority Limca was relegated to No. 5 or 6, after Coke, Thums Up, Fanta and Sprite.

Yet, the brand remained strong and continued to grow, but without the iconic cult status it once enjoyed. Far gone from the era when college students cut out ads and used them as dorm posters, or income tax officers joked about having a Limca before the raid, and a Limca after the raid. But that was a different time. Media was different, as was competition.

With a brand having a long history like Limca, it is refreshing to hear that it has decided to return to thirst as its core benefit. It is the most fitting, since the very premise of the brand was built on such simple ideas.

Limca is a home-grown, powerful Indian brand. More power to brands like that, and the people who build them. May we see their tribe grow!

Kurien Mathews is an advertising professional, digitally inclined and promotes organic food. He is the CMD, METAL Communications; director Rage Communications; and director, Conscious Food. He is also the co-author of Brands Under Fire.

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