The company announced that it had grabbed 20% share of the cola market in India. How did it get to this point?
Thums Up is a company that has many memorable taglines – ‘Taste of thunder’, ‘Aaj kuchh toofani karte hai’, among others. It was recently reported that the ‘Toofani’ drink grabbed 20% of the market share of the Indian cola market. Earlier this year, it was declared a billion-dollar company. From humble beginnings, the brand has come a long way.
Thums Up came into existence in 1977, under Ramesh Chauhan's Parle company. Thums Up made its debut in the Indian market alongside Gold Spot, an orange-flavoured drink, Citra and Limca – lemon-flavoured drinks.
These drinks were introduced at a strategic time. 1977 was the year that the late Morarji Desai’s government introduced the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA). Before FERA was introduced, MNCs – including the Coca-Cola Company – were wholly owned by their parent companies abroad. This meant that all the profits made from operating and selling products in India, were repatriated to the parent company.
What FERA sought to do was to place a cap on the foreign equity participation in India, at 40%. In response to FERA, the Coca-Cola Company, along with Kodak, IBM and many others, chose to exit India.
In 1991, under the liberalisation reforms introduced by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, many of these multinational companies returned to India – and yes, Coca-Cola Company was one of them. By this time, Thums Up had become immensely popular in India. To increase its equity and appeal with Indian audiences, Coca-Cola bought Thums Up, Gold Spot, Limca and Citra in 1993.
Ambi Parameswaran, a brand consultant and former advertising professional, recalls that Thums Up, as a brand, was immensely popular because it managed to capture the imagination of the audiences with its 1977 campaign – ‘Happy days are here again’. In the past, Thums Up has been endorsed by actors like Salman Khan, as well as cricketing stars like Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri.
Vigyan Verma, founder of The Bottom Line, a brand consulting company, explains that Thums Up was a brand created for Indian audiences, keeping their taste preferences and the warm weather in mind.
“It had spices like cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg that gave it a unique taste. It was also made fizzier to retain the effervescent feel, even when the bottles were not very cold. Remember, we are talking late 1970s, when cold storage was not as rampant, power supply was erratic in many parts of the country and ambient conditioned modern trade didn’t exist.”
Parmeswaran recalls that when Coca-Cola initially bought Thums Up, it only supported the brand in terms of distribution, but didn’t market it.
“The company realised that the brand was performing well, even in the absence of any ATL marketing. Thums Up has popularity in specific geographies of the country, such as Andhra Pradesh, and over the years, it has proven that it, is a brand, that can withstand competition.”
Verma also touches upon an interesting cultural aspect to the popularity of Thums Up – the signature burp after consuming it.
“Culturally, India (like some other Asian countries) is more accepting of a burp. It’s a mark of a satisfying meal that sometimes even the hosts look out for from guests. The strong taste also serves it well for a fabulous pairing with Indian dishes like biryani, as well as a mixer for dark rum like Old Monk.”
Thums Up, as a brand, has always banked on machismo as a marketing technique. Many of the protagonists in the commercial, were shown playing sports, or engaging in adventure sports, or performing crazy stunts, in order to get to that cola bottle. Till date, not much has changed, but Parmeswaran wonders if the brand is as connected to modern audiences as it was a couple of decades ago.
Now, celebrities like Vijay Devarkonda, Mahesh Babu, Shah Rukh Khan and Jasprit Bumrah, star in Thums Up ads. The tone of messaging still remains the same. Verma points out that recent movies that were successful on a national level, such as ‘Pushpa – The Rise’, ‘RRR’ and ‘KGF 2’, are steeped in machismo, and this style of marketing isn’t irrelevant.
Parmeswaran agrees that that the popularity of these movies shows that the brand’s ‘action-themed’ messaging is still relevant.
“If Thums Up has stayed relevant for over four decades, it’s also because of a timeless value that it has associated with. In a polarised world, we tend to associate machismo with regressive values, but why can’t daredevilry embrace grace, and panache? That’s a way for Thums Up, and it’s been on it,” comments Verma.
Today’s consumer is quite health-conscious and it remains to be seen how relevant the product itself is – at a time when many consumers are opting for natural, sugar-free products, such as tender coconut water and fresh fruit juices.
However, Verma and Parmeswaran disagree. Verma remarks that the carbonated soft drinks market is still a huge one in India – with colas itself estimated to be 1.8 billion litres in 2022.
“Our own approach to soft drinks changes with context. When we are thirsty, as a stand-alone drink, we may reach out for juice or buttermilk, rationalising on the health angle. But when one pairs a cola drink with food, the burden of nutrition isn’t on the former. Cola drinks sneak into our orders easily on the food-ordering apps, and even at the restaurants. It’s interesting to note that some of the most popularly ordered food items, as per Zomato’s 2021 report, like biryanis, momos, fries and, of course, pizzas, go very well with cola drinks. So, they are here to stay, for now,” says Verma.
Parmeswaran says that there will always be an emerging consumer for a product. In India, drinking a cola drink is seen as a coming of age product. “It’s seen as a sign of growing up. When a person transitions from being a child to a teenager, they may opt for this drink.”