Cola war out in the field

Last Updated: Fri, May 25, 2012 04:42 hrs

Coke's latest commercial for the summer opens in a desert with children enjoying a game of cricket despite the blistering heat. They bowl, bat, field and frolic in the sand oblivious of the temperature around, which is a good 42 degrees centrigrade. The moral of the story: when there is cricket, there is no stopping you.

The campaign for which Coke has hired the services of new agency Lowe instead of using roster agency McCann, is in keeping with its brand theme of 'Open Happiness' and plays up the love Indians have for cricket. That's predictable considering the passion for the gentleman's game in the country.

But what is interesting is that the slant that cricket can make you happy is diagonally opposite to what rival Pepsi has been saying through the summer this year. PepsiCo India has increased its emphasis on football, even organising a T20 Football tournament this year as part of its summer activities. International footballer Didier Drogba, who is Pepsi's international brand ambassador, will be in India next month for the grand finale of the T20 tournament.

Homi Batliwala, category director, colas, hydration and mango-based beverages, PepsiCo India, says that football is something they wish to popularise in India. "It is also one of our big communication planks globally," he had said in a conversation with Business Standard earlier.

But Coca-Cola executives maintain that the big sport in India is cricket, and that they do not wish to take their eyes off it. "We are sponsors of the Euro Cup this year besides the Olympics and will also be sponsoring the Football World Cup in 2014. So it is not as if football is not big for us," says Anupama Ahluwalia, vice-president, marketing, India and South West Asia, The Coca-Cola Company. "But you can't deny the fact that cricket is a key sport in India, and given that Coca-Cola is about providing joy and happiness, we thought why not fuse the two."

This point is endorsed by R Balakrishnan, chairman & chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas India, "The campaign was not conceived in response to what Pepsi was doing. People genuinely enjoy cricket regardless of what happens around the sport. It was about capturing a moment of happiness."

Will it work?
Coming at the fag end of the cricket season in the first half of the year (IPL is drawing to a close), Coke's latest instalment appears tad late. But Ahluwalia says that timing had no role to play here. "As you know," she says, "The weather has been fluctuating. In the north and other parts of the country, it is terribly hot at the moment. I don't think we are late in the day to have launched the campaign."

Coke, unlike other markets, is not the lead cola brand in India, Thums Up is, with a share of 15 per cent of the Rs 13,000-crore carbonated-beverages market, followed by Sprite with 14 per cent and Pepsi at 12.5 per cent. Coke has 8.5 per cent of the market, while Mountain Dew has 7.7 per cent, according to sources from the beverage industry.

In an attempt to push up sales, Coca-Cola India opted to bring down the price of its 200-ml returnable glass bottles of Brand Coke in February this year from Rs 10 (in some markets it is Rs 9) to Rs 8. There was no reduction in price of other carbonated beverage brands by the company. Ahluwalia says that this was important to boost consumption of Brand Coke since even a Rs 1 or Rs 2 reduction in price can get a whole host of new consumers into the fold. "This is particularly true in rural areas, where affordability is key," she says.

PepsiCo India too brought down the price of 200-ml glass bottles of its flagship brand in a bid to boost sales. This was done in March. Deepika Warrier, executive director, marketing, PepsiCo Beverages India, says, "There is a massive under-served demand for packaged beverages. We are gearing ourselves to serve this opportunity."

Both PepsiCo India and Coca-Cola India have also ramped up distribution in a bid to outdo each other on the availability front. While Warrier did not disclose figures of her company's distribution reach in carbonated beverages, Ahluwalia of Coca-Cola India says that the company reaches almost 1.7 million outlets this summer, which is up from 1.5 million outlets last year.

Cola companies derive over 30-35 per cent of their sales during the summer, reaching as many outlets then is key.

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