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Is Sprite's advertising a victim of its own devices?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | April 29, 2002
Starting from a broad anti-hype strategy, Sprite's current advertising appears to focus largely on Pepsi. Is this approach too limiting? And has the brand acquired 'pretensions' of its own?

Plot the progression of Sprite's advertising in India ever since the clear-lime brand debuted in this country, and two clear strains of communication emerge. While one can be classified as 'anti-hype, anti-pretension' advertising, the other is of the 'Pepsi bashing' variety. The two are not entirely dissimilar… in fact, the latter could well pass off as a subset of the former.

The 'anti-hype' strain of Sprite advertising is perhaps best exemplified in the famous 'beauty secrets from Lisa Ray' spot, (which many aver is the best Indian Sprite ad made to date). The 'beach' ad, the 'college steps' ad and the more recent 'Billoo' ad too offer a counterpoint to pretension and showoff-ism.

Then there are those Sprite ads that have ostensibly taken on Pepsi, usually in the form of spoofing any new Pepsi ad that goes on air. When Pepsi ran the Shah Rukh-Kajol-Rani Mukherji campaign, Sprite responded with its first spoof: the sardarji who tells the kid who 'wants more' that 'soft drink peene se koi hiroin-shroin nahin aati… sirf aati hai dakaar!' Since then, Sprite has regularly been taking potshots at Pepsi. The 'Jaggu se gentleman' print ad (in response to the Preity Zinta-chimp commercial); the 'watch' ad (spoofing Pepsi's international 'roller-coaster' ad); and the latest dig at the Bachchan-Tendulkar Pepsi ad.

The common thread in the 'anti-hype' and anti-Pepsi ads was Sprite's basic brand premise. 'Bujhaye only pyaas, baaki sab bakwaas'. Two simple messages to the viewer: here's a thirst quencher; and don't get taken in by any pretension.

"Sprite was basically de-glamorizing advertising as a whole, by undermining all pretension and hype," says a Delhi-based communications consultant. "Sprite was essentially saying, if the idea is to 'bujhao pyaas' and only that, we are here. We don't promise to make you macho (like Thums Up), cool (like Coke), a celebrity (like Pepsi) or beautiful (like Lisa Ray) because all those promises are bull. In effect, Sprite was taking a jab at all hype, without making any exceptions. Its stance was anti-marketing, anti-advertising in the overall context."

Which is why it's time to ask: Is Sprite's current advertising a victim of its own devices? For one, while the older advertising for Sprite seemed to make a mockery of any pretension, the more recent ads for the brand are perceived to be more selective and limiting in the way they target Pepsi (despite the occasional Billoo-like ad). Two, Sprite's more recent advertising does not reflect any of the brand's 'thirst quenching' capabilities. Granted, maybe it doesn't have to anymore, but we were told 'baaki sab' is 'bakwaas', remember? And three, Sprite has acquired a default advertising attitude. And 'attitude' in advertising is as much a pretension as any other.

"If you go back to the time Sprite was launched here, the brand was pitched on anti-hype," says Rajiv Agarwal, country manager, rmg david. "In fact, even globally, anti-hype is the theme, with the line, 'Obey your thirst.' And it's a nice theme for a brand. But it seems as if Sprite has abandoned that position in India to hit at Pepsi. So while earlier Sprite advertising cut a huge anti-hype swathe, the focus has certainly become narrower. And perhaps that is being unfair to the brand because Sprite too has to stand on its feet as an independent brand."

Narrower need not necessarily mean 'worse'. "If you look at Coke's strategy in India, because of reasons peculiar to India, Pepsi happens to be the mainstream cola brand," defends Samit Sinha, partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting. "Now Coke does not attack anybody because that would mean acknowledging competition. And if Pepsi epitomizes hype in advertising, it makes sense for Coke to use Sprite to bash Pepsi… because that is what Sprite, in a larger sense, is supposed to do - bash anything that epitomizes hype in advertising." So given Sprite's proposition in India, Sinha says, it is only apt to take on Pepsi like this. "This is just a strategic thought, having a tactical statement. Even hype has to have a target. All along Sprite was targeting hype in general, and now it has focussed its attack on a specific target. You may call it 'narrowing'. I call this focussing. Sometimes, focussing gives you the right perspective, greater clarity."

Kaushik Roy, executive director, Mudra Communications, fails to be impressed. "This Pepsi bashing isn't helping any, especially when it lampoons two national icons like Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar," he says. "It's stupid and counterproductive, as people will not take too kindly to it. I think Coke, as a company, has gone overboard to take on Pepsi."

Roy feels that part of Sprite's problems also stem from a lack of focus. "I think the 'bujhaye only pyaas' idea was good as it took on the colas as a category and attempted to de-position everybody. And it was done in a fun, tongue-in-cheek and relevant manner. This new line of 'All taste, no gyaan' is quite meaningless. The thirst-quenching proposition is totally lost. In fact, the latest 7Up ad has delivered better on that promise, and it is partly because that space has been vacated by Sprite - which it should never have vacated. It could well be that Sprite now finds itself boxed into a corner."

If the thirst-quencher proposition has been diluted on the one hand, on the other, Sprite has acquired an attitude. Which is natural. "Even globally, Sprite's strong 'anti-attitude' eventually became an attitude," Agarwal points out. The problem starts when that 'attitude' takes visible overtones like 'cool dude' and 'smart'. Both very 'cola' attributes, in a way.

"The Sprite protagonist has, over the years, developed a superior attitude," says Roy. "One that gives an impression that everybody around him is an idiot. Yes, the chap should be intelligent and witty, but not smug. This has become Sprite's persona by default - and it wasn't ever supposed to be so. I think this happened because Sprite chose to fight the colas in the 'cola high ground'. So it automatically acquired an attitude. Sprite is caught in the confusion of figuring out if it's a thirst quencher or a flanker for Coke's attack on Pepsi."

For his part, Shripad Nadkarni, vice-president (marketing), Coca-Cola India, is clear that Sprite is not a shoulder for Coke to fire its gun from. "We might use Sprite as a flanker at times, but the brand has been created to grow the clear lime segment. That's the focus, and we are getting significant share from this." He also makes it evident that there is no change in what Sprite stands for. "Sprite is all about trusting instinct, as opposed to exaggerated claims. It exposes all hype, which is what 'All taste, no gyaan' also says. And every Sprite commercial has made a connect with the youth. The brand has a very clear and strong proposition." © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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