Abid Hussain Barlaskar

After a weak summer, cola brands pop the winter fizz with high decibel media burst

Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Thums Up and Sprite unveiled major campaigns last month featuring top star endorsers Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Disha Patani, Mahesh Babu and Tiger Shroff.

Fizzy beverage brands have had a terrible 2020. Top beverage companies Coca-Cola and Pepsi missed out on their peak summer consumption months due to the COVID-induced lockdowns in India. Both the companies reported a dip in sales during the summer months, which have traditionally driven their volumes.

PepsiCo reported a double-digit decline in its beverage volume in India in Q2 (April-June 2020). Similarly, Coca-Cola’s Asia Pacific business witnessed an 18 per cent dip. Coke reportedly said that the lockdowns’ severe impact on its India business even dented its global consolidated volumes.

Apart from the impact on distribution and individual consumption, the complete shutdown also affected the brands’ business-to-business (B2B) institutional sales in outlets like restaurants, theatres, etc. These out-of-home consumption hotspots are yet to witness strong recovery.

With summer gone, the brands latched onto the next big opportunity, the festive season. In India, soft drink brands resort to two major ad spurts – pre-summer (February-April) and pre-festive (August-September) months. The major 360 degree campaigns led by heavyweight endorsers are followed by shorter digital campaigns.

In 2020, many fizzy beverage brands launched their campaigns in December, much after the usual seasonal timings. Coke launched its #KonayWaliDukaan campaign on December 15. Pepsi launched the latest edition of its #HarGhoontMeinSwag campaign, with Bollywood stars Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani, on December 17. Coca-Cola launched #TurnUpYourDay, featuring Ranbir Kapoor, on December 24. Thums Up launched #LastMenStanding, with Ranveer Singh and Mahesh Babu, on December 28. And, Sprite launched #DoubtHataoSpriteUthao on December 30.

While Coca-Cola and Thums Up followed their usual product stories, Pepsi and Sprite added a functional tweak. Pepsi drove its new lowered price point, while introducing a limited edition ‘friendship pack’. Sprite sought to boost home deliveries and at-home consumption in groups. Sprite’s move specifically stands out as the soft drink segment is betting on in-home consumption in urban India as a key driver for growth and recovery.

Most other fizz players, like Limca, Mirinda, Fanta and Mountain Dew, maintained a relatively low profile, with little action even on social media.

We talked to experts about this trend.

Vidur Vyas, founder, NorthSide (a strategic business and brand marketing consultancy), says that it isn’t very unusual, since there is a window of opportunity for soft drink brands to drive sales during the festive season. “Coke anyway advertises before Christmas. Also, it is a season for social gathering, even though at a smaller scale. There is a consumption opportunity for soft drinks, even though it is much smaller.”

Vyas mentions that a part of the strategy is also aimed at driving relevance for the brands “to make them more relevant in case they have not advertised. A little unusual, but nothing very strange. It is also the intensity of advertising that matters.”

Sandeep Sharma, president, R K Swamy Media Group, says that soft drinks are advertising during the (ongoing) winter season primarily for two main reasons.

“First, to be top of mind around the Christmas, New Year celebrations, specifically targeting youngsters, party goers, in-house get-togethers, etc. Second, last summer, due to lockdowns, their advertising was low-key. It is an impulse purchase category and being top of mind is important.”

Speaking on the media planning side of the strategy, Sharma says that would be aimed at building high reach quickly. “High viewership programs, cricket, impact properties would be chosen, with good visibility in these shows through high frequency of spots. TV plus digital (video, OTT, social media, geo-targeting) would be the media of choice.”

Lloyd Mathias, a business strategist (and former marketing head of PepsiCo, Motorola and HP India), says that soft drink brands traditionally created campaigns mainly for the peak summer (May-July) and festive season (October).

However Mathias mentions that even after the festive months, markets like Mumbai can be pretty warm. And the festivals are also followed by the marriage season (October-February), which provides fresh opportunity. He also points out that soft drink companies are moving towards making consumption (all) round the year affair, instead of limiting it to seasonal rituals.

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