labels: writers & columnists, advertising/branding
The fizz is out of cola bottlesnews
Sunil K Poolani
18 October 2001
Mumbai: The summer heat is receding. Ditto the heat the cola wars had generated. Like every year, 2001 too witnessed the internecine war between the oldest and most famous protagonists of the cola wars, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. What if the combat had dipping sales as a backdrop!

The two cola giants, who have been waging a desi marketing war since the time they stepped into the country, tried to take full advantage of this years Indian weather conditions. But it is difficult to say who emerged victorious.

The latest tricks from the Pepsi bag were: Grow-Up, an answer to Cokes Thums-Up, and a second juice brand called Twister. Pepsi was extremely cautious about India because Coke had announced the fact that it is the market leader in non-carbonated beverages, a segment growing faster than both the companies core soft drinks market. This is apart from the cola giants flavoured sodas like Sprite or Mountain Dew.

Pepsi had also challenged Cokes taste-test research, which apparently revealed Thums-Up as a favoured drink among the age group of 12 to 39 years. Pepsi was meticulously careful in this battle, as Pepsi Indias operations have already threatened to raise infringement of trademark issues with Coke in the US.

But how could Coke be left behind? It, of course, relied on the successful legwork it had done in the initial stage. But since over the years the sales have plummeted (dont worry, along with Pepsis), it started innovative ways of advertising: Coke is putting up ads in curious places, from public toilets to luggage carousels at airports.

Now both the giants are gearing up for a new battle that is of one-upmanship and, obviously, better sales.

Lets take a break from the ongoing cola news. How did the carbonated soft drink industry fall from 71.3 per cent in 1990 to 60.5 per cent last year, when factors like awareness, lifestyle and population should have ensured huge sales rise? Does that mean people have suddenly started realising that the (self-created) famous war is just hype and there is no substance after the initial burp?

Explanations vary, but the basic fact is that people are turning away from fizzy drinks to healthier bottled waters and bottled teas. Though still only a tiny slice of the soft drinks market, functional drinks have grown by 62 per cent in volume over the past five years. No wonder that both the rivals are realising the potential of this segment, and are trying to tap it as a last survival act.
Nevertheless, it is only in India that the potential of its rich legacy of healthier drinks is not tapped. We do not have the imagination or the inclination to package and market them. Instead, we allow global sweet water manufacturers to take advantage of our palate, which has for centuries savoured buttermilk, neera, nimbupani, ganne ka ras and so on.

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The fizz is out of cola bottles