All the 3 big Cola brands in India—Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Thums Up—released new TVCs in December 2020.
Pepsi – December 17, 2020, by Wunderman Thompson.
Coca-Cola – December 24, 2020, by McCann Worldgroup India.
Thums Up – December 26, 2020, by Lowe Lintas.
What connects all of them, besides the fact that they are all Cola brands? Celebrities.
The Pepsi ad features Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani, the Coca-Cola ad features Ranbir Kapoor, and the Thums Up ad features Mahesh Babu and Ranveer Singh.
In a way, all 3 ads are sequels/extensions of earlier avatars.
The Pepsi ad is an extension of the brand’s ‘Har Ghoont Mein Swag’ theme that featured Tiger and Disha in a song by Badshah, in 2019.
The Coca-Cola ad is an extension of the brand’s ‘Turn Up Your Day’ theme that featured Ranbir Kapoor, in February 2020.
The Thums Up ad is an extension of the brand’s similarly adventure-themed ads that had 2 versions, one each for Mahesh and Ranveer. This time, they are both in the ad together, perhaps for the first time.
Barring Thums Up, Pepsi and Coca-Cola have occasionally tried using the non-celebrity route in advertising, but by and large, the template is set. The basic premise of selling Cola in India is to show a celebrity thirsting for the drink and consuming it as if their life depends on it. And the brands hope that this sentiment would extend to the viewers too.
It is fitting that a product that is so utterly vacuous uses such an equally vacuous advertising narrative. There is absolutely nothing that any agency could think of to communicate about the product per se. The product offers no health benefits, and is, in fact, a harmful cocktail led by sugar – the so-called benefits are all psychological. I do not mean this in any emotional sense – it is what it is and there are other examples of such products too, specifically in the luxury segment. Or, consider cigarettes, about which I refer to, further below.
There is an early interest among consumers in India about the pointlessness of cola drinks, but it is perhaps too limited for the brands to do something seriously. The anti-Cola sentiment shows up sporadically in comments and replies when the brands post their latest ads featuring one celebrity or another. But, taking into account the overall sales, I don’t think the alarm bells need to be rung anytime soon.
Where things may change is from the celebrity’s side. Quite a few celebrities have publicly refused to be associated with the Cola biggies despite the money involved. Virat Kohli is perhaps the biggest name who took a public stand by refusing to renew a Pepsi contract, though people questioned that stand on the back of his association with Royal Challenge, an alcohol brand.
There is no dearth of celebrities for the Cola brands to rope in, however. The money involved is humongous and Colas still do not have the negative association of a cigarette or alcohol that has to depend on ridiculous surrogate advertising that blatantly mocks the rules of Government mandates on advertising such products.
What could change the status quo, I wonder, then.
What would make the Cola biggies move Cola advertising to a surrogate mode, like the way alcohol brands do?
Government regulation is one possibility.
Enough pushback from people is a pipe dream.
But, how about a healthier cola variant? Not just an alternative to cola (there are tons of alternatives, including water!), but a ‘better’ cola, one that comes without the health concerns?
Imagine – Patanjali launching a so-called healthier/herbal cola could be that push.
Patanjali’s herbal-this and ayurvedic-that have disrupted quite a few product categories in India, though the incumbents have all successfully learned the trick from the disruptor and have regained their lost market shares.
But Patanjali has also expanded the market for all-things-herbal and all-things-ayurvedic far better than the likes of Dabur, Himalaya, Hamdard or Baidyanath have been trying for almost a century.
A herbal/ayurvedic Baba-Cola (or a Ram-Cola? Dev-Cola?) could do 2 things – one, increase the push-back against conventional colas, and two, expand the market for supposedly healthier colas (if there is something like that, that is), disrupting the scene significantly.
A bottle of cola for your thoughts?