Sunit Roy

"We've moved from analog to cloud marketing": Coke's Vijay Parasuraman

A quick chat with Vijay Parasuraman - VP, Marketing at Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola, 130-year-old beverage brand, recently launched Thums Up Charged, the first ever variant of the popular cola brand. The new product will be available across India in the first week of December. The announcement was made last week on the occasion of Thums Up's 40th birthday. Teaser ads for Thums Up Charged will break in the first week of December.

Currently, brand Thums Up is worth between Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 5,500 crore (approx) in terms of sales revenue in India with Andhra Pradesh and Telangana being its strongest markets.

"We've moved from analog to cloud marketing": Coke's Vijay Parasuraman

Coca-Cola India recently launched 'Thums Up Charged', the first ever variant of Thums Up

Ramesh Chauhan sold Thums Up to Coca-Cola in 1993. Globally, Coca-Cola is present across 207 countries, except North Korea and Cuba.

On the occasion of the launch, we spoke to Vijay Parasuraman, VP, Marketing, Coca-Cola, who was promoted earlier this year. Previously, he was GM, Sparkling Brands, The Coca-Cola Company, in China. He has been with Coca-Cola for around 15 years.

Edited Excerpts

Why did it take the company 40 years to launch a variant? What led to this?

Every brand has its own journey. It's not about taking 40 years to launch a variant for Thums Up, it's about consumer readiness, about whether we ourselves are ready for it and about whether the idea resonates with the consumer. It took us about five to nine months to decide that it does.

A while back when we thought about making the announcement that Maaza will become a billion-dollar brand by 2023, and while we were doing all this research, we realised that Thums Up was actually inching closer to the billion-dollar mark, faster than any other brand. And while we all know that Coca-Cola is known for its master brand 'Coca-Cola', very few people know that we have created 21 brands under it.

Not all of them have grown in the US or are as popular as international brands like Coke, Fanta or Sprite. There are brands which have come from countries like China, Japan, etc. So, there's no reason that a homegrown brand like Thums Up, one created in India, can't get there. Since we are very close to it, we have taken up the challenge that in the next couple of years we will take this brand to the billion-dollar table.

Speaking of consumer/market readiness for a variant, what were the indicators? What makes you confident that the market is ready for it?

Thums Up is our iconic, masculine brand. It is larger than just a 'beverage brand'. When I say masculinity, it really has nothing to do with gender; it's more about a state of mind. We keep doing research... we have the love of existing consumers, but keep trying to get newer consumers too.

We think there are a lot of 'drinking moments' every day... the objective of our 'Beverages for Life' philosophy is to provide choices for consumers in every drinking moment. Our consumers tell us there is something unique about this brand; they like the kind of advertising we do.

As far as product innovation goes, the idea was to make it more intense, give consumers a more 'charged up drinking experience'. That's how the whole project started.

We're a consumer-centric company. As long as we listen to them, we will be accepted. Also, every country, every state has its own set of motivations and as a brand, our job is to cater to those motivations. That's why in India over the past few years we have worked on expanding our product portfolio.

Tell us more about the product - how is Thums Up Charged different from regular Thums Up?

From a product point of view, it is way stronger. The caffeine content in Thums Up Charged is higher than that present in its parent brand. The unit price per pack will remain the same across the two, though. Thums Up will continue to remain the 'base brand' for it.

Thums Up Charged is not just another cola... it is 'Thums Up'. The way we look at it is - consumers choose colas based on the brand name, not the drink.

How will you promote the product? What is your marketing mix looking like?

A lot of science and art goes into how we evolve a marketing strategy.

We will have Ranveer Singh for the Hindi speaking market and Mahesh Babu for the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana region. We will have different edits (of our ads) for various languages.

We'll leverage digital, OOH, Print, TV and key activation platforms including malls, shopping centres, etc.

You have been associated with Coca-Cola for almost 15 years. How have your challenges changed? How has brand marketing evolved over the last decade?

Your messaging must drive home the functional benefit and emotional value of your brand. How you do that keeps changing, but what you do remains the same. That's the way we see it. At the end of the day, the brand should have a physical benefit and an emotional value.

Previously, it was marketing in an analog world, but now one has to focus on digital marketing in a digital world.

Have news to share? Write to us