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    Not so cool anymore: Will the Coca-Cola ad be able to get the fizz back?


    Coca-Cola advertising in India has changed from being great to mediocre in the recent years. Will it be able to get the fizz back?

    Cola is a category that's been been built on advertising. Though the two major brands in the space, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, make a big deal about their 'formula,' there's little to distinguish between the two brands of carbonated sugar water — except perhaps for the amount of sugar in each of them. The upshot: Advertising has a huge role to play in consumers picking one over the other.

    After exiting the country in 1977, Coca-Cola re-entered India in 1993. Pepsi, which made its debut in India in 1989, used its first mover edge to capture much of India's imagination. Coke attempted to play catch-up with a two-pronged gambit: One, turn on the jingles; and, two, bring on the celebrity endorsers.

    A lot of Coke advertising from 1993 to 2003 was jingle-based, with taglines like: 'Always The Real Thing', 'Pee Le Coca-Cola', 'Jo Chahe Ho Jaye...Coca-Cola Enjoy.' Bollywood stars endorsing the brand include Karisma Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai among others.

    Says Vikas Gupta, a former head of marketing at Coca-Cola India, who was with the company from 1994 to 2006: "Coke came to India when the country was opening up to global markets. Coke did the right thing by buying out Ramesh Chauhan's brands (Thums Up was the biggest, and there were also Limca and Gold Spot) because that gave them instant access to a well established nation wide bottling infrastructure along with a great brand portfolio. With the basics in place, brand building could now take place."

    Since the beginning one of the main challenges for Coke has been to increase per capita consumption of cola. Gupta had the mandate in the mid-90s and the current spokesperson echoes a similar sentiment. "The packaged beverages market back in 1993 was at a nascent stage and per capita consumption was just 3. Contrast that to 2012 when the per capita consumption has crossed 20," says the spokesperson.

    Advertising for Coca-Cola in India has almost always been handled by McCann Erickson. Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman, McCann Worldgroup gave the brand its award-winning campaign in 'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola,' which won two gold Lions at Cannes in 2003. The campaign featured Aamir Khan playing regional roles (as a Hyderabadi and a Punjabi among others) and enabled Coke to strengthen its equity nationwide.

    "Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola firmly established Coke in India. The campaign also gave the brand a very good edge over competition," says Santosh Padhi, CCO & cofounder, Taproot India which handles communication for Pepsi. The objective of the company through the campaign was to target small towns and not just the urban populace. "Coca-Cola India believed that the first brand to offer communication targeted at smaller towns would own the rural market so it went after that objective with a comprehensive strategy," says the Coke spokesperson.

    This segment's primary need was out-of-home thirstquenching; and the soft drink category was undifferentiated in the minds of rural consumers. ‘Thanda,’ meaning cool/cold is also generic for cold beverages, thereby giving 'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola' multiple meanings. The phrase addressed both the primary need of the segment for cold refreshment by positioning Coke as a generic 'thanda' beverage like lassi or lemonade.

    After 2003, a number of campaigns were used to launch a 200 ml bottle, a PET bottle and to tackle the controversy surrounding allegations of high pesticide levels in colas. However, none enjoyed the same adulation as 'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola'. "'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola' was an absolutely gem of a tagline and the biggest ever claim made by any brand on the category of cold drinks. I am not sure why they dropped it at all. They could have approached the idea with a fresh execution every time," says Padhi.

    Industry observers also speak about the constant change in the Coke marketing system that contributed to a steady dilution of the brand. "Coke had many people at the helm of marketing over the years and everyone tried to bring his own idea to the fore. Currently the brand has a roster of agencies working on its creative. It also has an internal creative arm that does advertising," says an observer familiar with Coke's promotional strategies.

    With so many cooks, the possibility of the broth getting spoiled is high. Since 2009, Coke globally has been running the ‘Open Happiness’ campaign, which was adapted for the Indian market as well. However actor Imran Khan who’s been part of the India execution has not quite been able to recreate the magic his uncle Aamir Khan managed to weave in 2003.

    In 2010, Coca-Cola ran the ‘Brrr...’ campaign — again an adaptation of the brand’s campaign in South Africa. On the current challenges in selling Coke to the consumer, Joshi says, “Consumers today are spoilt for choice. With such a vast range of options, they are fickle minded and over-communicated-to. However, the only way a brand can make itself valuable to the consumers is by offering something more than just the functional benefit or just creating awareness about itself.”

    Padhi of Taproot agrees that Coke advertising in India has lost its charm and has been all over the place in the last five years; however the brand's recent association with Olympics gives it another opportunity for a comeback.

    "Coke lost the opportunity when it stayed away from World Cup and now Pepsi is far ahead. Their Olympics tie-up is a great chance for them to make a comeback and put some pressure on us. Then we will be forced to do even better work," he laughs.
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