Abid Hussain Barlaskar

How did one tweet resurrect a dead brand?

Indian biscuits and confectionery manufacturer, Parle recently announced the relaunch of its once popular confectionery brand, Rol.a.Cola, more than a decade after it was discontinued in the Indian market. What's interesting is the way this comeback happened — through a single tweet.

Rol.a.Cola, a cola-flavoured hard-boiled candy, was discontinued by Parle in 2006. Thirteen years hence, in February 2019, Siddharth Sai Gopinath (Twitter profile @ssaig), a young businessman based in Kerala, tweeted requesting Parle to bring it back. In response, Parle sought 10,000 retweets. The #BringRolaColaBack campaign went viral with almost eleven thousand retweets and as per Parle's claims, secured over seven lakh impressions on Twitter, all organic. It was soon followed by the #RolaColaIsComingBack campaign and eventually #RolaColaIsBack.

We got in touch with Krishnarao S Buddha, senior category head, marketing at Parle Products, to take a closer look at the brand, the segment and upcoming challenges. Buddha reveals that decades ago (around the late 70s/early 80s), the Rol.a.Cola candy was launched as an alternative to the then pricey cola beverages. “That's when we felt that a cola candy could suffice certain needs of a certain consumer segment,” Buddha says. He reveals that consumers have shared past stories about them dissolving Rol.a.Cola candies in water, chilling it, to drink it as a cola drink.

Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head - Marketing at Parle Products
Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head - Marketing at Parle Products

While it was an "instant hit", over the years, Rol.a.Cola started slowing down in comparison with other Parle brands. The company undergoes an annual 'brand/SKU (stock-keeping unit) rationalisation' ritual where brands/SKUs are evaluated. The pruning process makes way for brands with higher potential. As a result, production of Rol.a.Cola came to a halt in 2006.

“We decide to either keep a brand/SKU or to discontinue since we have a limited field force. A salesperson can only take limited orders while visiting a retail shop. He would offer a shopkeeper various SKUs from a host of Parle brands and by the time he offers a certain number of brands, the shopkeeper would be tired or fall short of budget,” Buddha says.

When asked about the confidence of acting on a single tweet, Buddha recalls an advice from one of his former bosses at Uncle Chips where he used to worked about 25 years back, “My then boss had told me that a single feedback letter from a consumer, either good or bad, could easily represent reactions of ten thousand consumers. If a customer, without any personal reason, has bothered to react and reach back to a manufacturer/marketer, it means something. We got such individual reactions on emails or postcards and responded in a standard format. But with social media things changed. It could become a movement with other people joining in,” he adds.

Siddharth Sai Gopinath, the first person who tweeted about it also tagged Parle asking how many retweets it would take to bring Rol.a.Cola back. He tells afaqs! that after a little bit of difficulty of finding the correct Parle brand Twitter handle, he decided to go ahead with the Parle Family handle since it posted about most Parle products.

Siddharth Sai Gopinath
Siddharth Sai Gopinath

"I had an emotional attachment towards the candy and thought that let me just tweet and see what happens. My grandmother used to buy it for me secretly when my parents did not let me have the cola beverages. That was 15 years back," Gopinath says.

Once he realised that the movement was picking up speed, he started sharing it aggressively with friends, family and acquaintances, to the point that people started thinking that he was a Parle employee.

Gopinath was in Dubai during the brand launch. "I came back to Bangaluru and went around looking for it. I found it later in a store in Kerala. The taste brings back memories in a second. The feeling of having it for the first time after so many years is amazing. I still can't believe that a large company like Parle acted on a tweet," Gopinath adds.

Following the developments on Twitter, the teams at Parle started deliberating on how to go about the whole thing. The next decision was to come up with a number. "Someone came up with 2 lakh retweets, someone said 50 thousand. The Pulwama attack had just taken place and PM Narendra Modi's tweet at that time was retweeted around 40 thousand times. We felt that if the tweet by a personality such as the PM drew that sort of attention that too, at a sensitive time, a fourth of it i.e. 10 thousand, should be a good number for us. That's how we arrived at the number. We had decided that even if we crossed five thousand retweets we would go ahead,” Buddha reveals.

The post got 10,000 retweets in less than a month's time by March 13 and the Parle team decided to bring the brand back within 90 days and initiated work. The brand has re-entered a now Rs 10,000 crore confectionery market in which sugar hard-boiled candies, i.e. Rol.a.Cola's category, made up around Rs 4,000 crores. Rol.a.Cola also rejoins the bevy of Parle's popular confectionery brands such as Mango Bite, Kismi, Poppins, Kachha Mango Bite, Mazelo among others. It will also compete with offerings from companies such as Mentos, PVMI, Wrigley Joyco, Candico, Godrej Nutrine, Lotte Parry, ITC and Cadbury.

“We came up with a new and very different packaging and almost printed it before realising that consumers might not connect with the new design. We scrapped it and decided to borrow elements from the original pack.” —Krishnarao S Buddha

Over the 90-day period, the team had to redo the package design. “We came up with a new and very different packaging and almost printed it before realising that consumers might not connect with the new design. We scrapped it and decided to borrow elements from the original pack while also making it a bit contemporary so that it appealed to the younger lot,” Buddha reveals.

A crucial point in the quick comeback was that while the brand was discontinued in the domestic market, it was still active in global markets such as Africa and Middle East with a presence of over two decades. The manufacturing facility was set up near Parle's existing facility in Indore. Commercial production started by mid-September and distribution started soon after. The South region was the first to get Rol.a.Cola since the first tweet originated in Kerala followed by North, East and then the West.

The new packs are available in variants of Rs 5 and Rs 20. The larger pack is aimed at modern retail. “Modern retail outlets don't want to stock items below Rs 10 in order to justify the in-store display real estate taken up by a particular product,” Buddha explains.

“Frankly, how much will the 30+ year old nostalgic consumers consume? I cannot bank on nostalgia alone.” —Krishnarao S Buddha.

The challenge now is to pass on the nostalgia factor and the brand to the younger generation, the key TG for the brand's marketer. “Frankly, how much will the 30+ year old nostalgic consumers consume? I cannot bank on nostalgia alone. The key TG of 13-24 year olds too must connect with the product. The success depends on the relevance,” Buddha says.

“I believe there is an opportunity since there is a wave of consumers asking for the product. We decided to give it a fair shot. Also, there is a slowdown in the growth of colas and there is awareness around sugary carbonated beverages, in that scenario, there could be an opportunity for Rol.a.Cola as an alternative to the cola need which can be consumed in a limited manner,” he adds.

How did one tweet resurrect a dead brand?

For the campaign, the Parle team crafted a story telling people that the brand has been travelling abroad since 2006 only to feel homesick and return home in 2019.

Buddha believes that there would not be a better way of promoting the brand than on social media where it was resurrected. “It won't be propagated on traditional mediums and will be limited to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.,” he adds. “The clear cut brief for advertising partners is to create clever, witty communication in a language that appeals to the youth,” Buddha signs off.