Published in Nov-Dec 2014
For too long, the carbonated soft drinks (CSD) segment in Pakistan has been dominated by one brand. Sure, Coke earned a bit of glory with its Coke Studio platform, but it will always be the David to Pepsi’s Goliath. Pepsi owns cricket, and cricket is still the binder of millions of souls, no matter that from time to time it also weighs down said souls like an albatross.
This is an interesting premise to explore further.
Pepsi owns cricket and this has always made it more ‘local’ than Coke. Why?
Apparently ‘local’ was confined to a sport and a pastime; it seemed there was but one path to Pakistani gullets and that path was made of bat, ball and wicket. As though there was no other identifying factor, nothing else that linked us together. So while Coke ran its blandly feel-good, ‘sharing is caring’ international ads, Pepsi invested in larger than life ‘heroes’ (never mind they could morph into villains within the space of an innings) and connected with audience far better than Coke. It didn’t matter that Pepsi ads had one shtick, to be repeated endlessly through the years; briefly abandoned and then inevitably resurrected when a ‘deeper’ positioning fell flat (it’s a soft drink, let’s not pretend it can magically transform the world). What mattered was that the brand connected with Pakistanis by using something wholly local: cricketers.
But is there nothing else we can connect with? Is that the extent of our identity? A uniform love of men wielding sticks and chasing balls across a field? Or is there something deeper that brands can exploit in their quest for our wallets?
Perhaps there is. And perhaps that elusive something has been uncovered by black CSDs’ poor cousins – the clear and orange ones. At least, that is the feeling one gets when flipping through the channels lately. Both 7Up and Sprite seem to have gone through a renaissance that has rendered them relevant, local and fresh.
The irony is that both have similar propositions, derived from a very basic fact. (Not an insight, as that would imply some amount of head-scratching.) Clear CSDs make local food taste better.
Sprite was first, with its ‘Sprite ka tarka.’ A brilliant concept; the very word conjures up the spicy goodness that is synonymous with our local food. The execution is straightforward and all the better for it. The food shots are appetising in that specific way only Pakistani food can be; mouth and eye-watering at once. There is a tone of challenge, because Sprite is not there to mitigate the extreme spiciness; rather, to enhance it. And the yell that follows each bite conveys the message perfectly, as anyone who has a fondness for fiery food can testify – an almost unbearable heat before it subsides into something more enjoyable. Other elements like the roadside setting and the jingle make the TVC even more authentic. It proves the point that when you get it right, you can keep it simple.
7UP’s foray into similar territory works quite well too. Rather than focus on a specific type of food, the brand extended the proposition to all food, with the simple tag line of ‘Mana lo food ka love.’ Apt again: we do so love our food, don’t we? They scored well with a catchy jingle, clean execution and that old classic fallback – it’s so good you don’t want to share it. Trite, but not enough to ruin a solid campaign.
Let’s bring a bit of colour back into our lives now, with Fanta. Fanta stands out due to its unique execution (to be fair, it rather reminds me of Comfort on occasion; still, different category). The brand has stuck to this style long enough to make a strong association. Again, it’s a simple message, linking Fanta not just to food (snack time), but also to the colour orange, which is a great touch, albeit reminiscent of ‘Thanda matlab Coca-Cola’ to a degree.
What do these campaigns have in common and what might be the secret of their success? In my view, there is absolutely no rocket science involved.
1) Call to action
This should be at the heart of such a category. Watching the commercial should make you want to rush to your fridge and pull out a cold bottle. And this is something that has been glaringly absent in CSD ads lately. All that focus on stardom and peace and happiness just doesn’t make room for something as obvious and natural as the fact that these ads should make you want to drink the product! By simply reminding their audiences of the foremost reason to buy a CSD, and then making that connection real through the execution, these brands have elevated the entire category.
2) Clear functionality
Rather than wax lyrical about happiness and love or limitless fame and glory, these brands have stuck to their raison d être: they make food taste and go down better. They don’t bring about world peace, they don’t make you rich or talented – they go with what you are eating. That is literally all there is to it. And it works.
3) Single-minded message
There is very little faffing about (if any), nor is the message subtle or ‘creative’. It is obvious, it is relatable and it is memorable.
4) Fun execution
Whether we are referring to cool local jingles that strike a chord or a weird execution style that is wholly the brand’s own, the TVCs are actually (gasp!) fun to watch. Instead of being banished by a click, they may stay on your screen more than once; a difficult achievement in this age of clutter.
5) They are local-flavoured
Coke’s biggest problem (in my opinion) has been its global look and feel in the past. The brand has become more ‘local’ of late (Coke Studio’s played a big role in that regard) and the personalised bottles are a great way to connect better with the audience; yet the brand has a legacy that is hard to forget. By contrast, these three brands have adopted a Pakistani tonality and done so quite easily. Yes, there are aspects like regional platforms, or the adaptation of Indian concepts and executions, but at the end of the day, the campaigns we are exposed to here are distinctly Pakistani.
6) Real people
I might be a lone wolf in this (I frequently am, so no matter!) but I think a lack of celebrity endorsements has refreshed these brands immensely. I refer here to Pepsi’s tired reliance on cricketers who barely manage to qualify as stars these days, much less role models. It’s still working for Pepsi, but that does not mean other brands need to follow suit. Young people relate to their own image as well as (or even better than) they do to ‘icons’.
So, there you have it. Simplicity, relevance and freshness are all it takes to get your audience’s attention.
Sara Amjad Qureshi is Marketing Head – Exams, The British Council. firstname.lastname@example.org