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Cola ads are back, but where is the impact?

50-60% of the category’s (Cola) overall spendings are utilised during the summer period. speaks to experts to understand whether using A-level celebrities is still the only way the cola category can advertise

After almost two years of laying relatively low with advertising and promotions, there has been a string of advertisement campaigns from cola drink brands for the summers recently.

Taglines like Ye Dil Maange More (Pepsi), Taste the Thunder (Thums up), Open Happiness (Coco-Cola), have been etched into our memories. However, according to some experts, the level of audience’s connect has dwindled with the last few campaigns from these brands.

Pepsi’s latest ad featuring Salman Khan:

Thums Up’s latest ad featuring Shahrukh Khan:

Coca-Cola’s ad featuring Janhvi Kapoor and Prateek Khatter:

Ramesh Narayan

According to Ramesh Narayan, CEO of Canco Advertising, one of the big problems in the category is the frequent exchange of brand ambassadors. 

“The more things change, the more they remain the same. Cola brands are big-budget brands. So, they go seeking the biggest and most expensive stars. They use celebrities as their influencers. Money is not an issue. Even the creative idea is not an issue. Recall is. So, you had Salman endorsing Thums Up, now you have a modern-day SRK endorsing it. The thunder is hopefully still there. It's a well-made action commercial and who cares for anything else. Then you had SRK endorsing Pepsi earlier, now you have Salman. The juggernaut merry go round goes on,” Narayan said. 

Samit Sinha

Adding to this, Samit Sinha, Founder and Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, said, “What makes things confusing for consumers is using stars interchangeably, where the same set of celebrities have at different points in time endorsed different brands in the same category. Coca-Cola’s positioning begs a wholesome, next-door-boy/girl image, even if one is using a star. Pepsi’s positioning goes best with a slightly edgier, irreverent and humorous approach, while a macho, action-hero image suits Thums Up the best.” 

“Sharukh Khan – despite the portrayal of his action-hero avatar – is miscast in the Thums Up advertising. Conversely, Salman Khan is better suited to represent the macho, action-hero imagery that has been the domain of Thums Up. But having said that, while I may have issues with the choice of the stars used, both the Thums Up and Pepsi advertisements are at least trying to stay as close to their respective positioning roots,” he added. 

Uday Mohan

Summer is an important advertising period for many categories, especially cola brands. According to Uday Mohan, President and Chief Client Officer, Havas Media Group India, 50-60% of the category’s (Cola) overall spendings are utilised during this period. “Since the summer season is dominated by live cricket on-air, it is much more likely that the spends would be concentrated here, as food and drinks go hand in hand with sporting events.” 

Nisha Sampath

So, at a time when these brands are spending so much money, it is important for them to optimise it correctly said, Nisha Sampath, Managing Partner at Bright Angles Consulting LLP.

“They are pressurised to come up with something big every year and it also has to register into the minds of people. You are then constantly trying to spread awareness about it, then you are not optimising your spends if that’s all you achieved,” Sampath said.

Is using star appeal still the right approach? 

India has the highest number of celebrity endorsements. According to a Duff&Phelps report, the overall brand value of the top 20 celebrities in 2020 is estimated at $1 billion. However, at a time when the audience and especially the youth is getting smarter and may not fall for celebrity endorsements, does investing so heavily on them make sense? 

According to Sampath, Cola brands are mass brands just like FMCG brands and they are competing to grow across India, for which they have to rely on high salience, aspirational appeal. She said it is a category code for these brands to have film stars. 

“Influencer marketing works for brands that have clearly defined and sharp audience segments. But they can never compete with star power that reaches the masses which is what these brands rely on.” 

Sowmya Iyer

On the other hand, Sowmya Iyer, Founder and CEO of DViO digital, feels that these stars are also influencers. She said the kind of numbers on Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan is unparalleled and they get in the numbers for the brands. “However, influencers may get in a more dynamic and peer influence on the audience.” 

Some similar category brands have been built entirely in the absence of big stars. For example, this time Sprite used humour to remind people to consume the drink. 

7up on the other hand, bought back its old mascot Fido Dido to attract people. 

Mohan of Havas Media agreed that the Cola brands despite the digital wave are still big spenders on television. “Although digital has grown exponentially in the last two years, it still has a long way to catch up with TV in terms of spends, especially for this category. Cola category brands are mass brands and appeal to all age groups, the price point makes almost everyone a potential customer. In such a scenario, TV works best as it offers reach that is far and wide and reaches all the masses in the country, urban and rural. In addition, the fact that Cricket or IPL especially has a universal appeal and cuts across demographics and geographies. This makes TV a very lucrative medium for cola brands to advertise (especially during IPL or live cricket) and drive overall impact. However, digital is fast catching up, especially from an engagement perspective amongst the core target group.” 

On the other hand, Iyer stated that these brands need to look at digital as a primary medium. “No doubt that TV penetration is high. But even YouTube is giving you a scalable reach as the highest penetration platform in terms of numbers. If you don’t look at YouTube as a suitable alternative platform, you may lose in the long run. You have to start looking at a significant spend on YouTube and Facebook if you want that kind of penetration.” 

“While some of the largest stars are definitely achieving the objective of reach, it might not be the most creative way. Spend wise, they (Cola brands) are definitely not doing justice to digital as a medium,” she concluded.

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