In July, during the gruelling days of summer, Sprite set out to break the clutter with their Thand Rakh (Keep Cool) campaign’s third iteration.
Thand Rakh is actually an adaptation of Sprite’s global campaign – ‘Heat Happens’ which launched in 2021. Previous Thand Rakh campaigns revolved around various aspects of ‘heat’; be they physical or to do with spicy food. The current campaign focuses on various moments of ‘mental heat’; in other words, the daily frustrations that afflict people – waiting in long queues, being stuck in traffic jams, waiting for the electricity to come back on, or women being gawked at by men. The campaign features a cast of celebrities that include musicians Annural Khalid and Kaifi Khalil and actor Hania Aamir Khan.
One of the standout ads (and moments) in the campaign was ‘Ghooro Matt – Thand Rakh,’ (Don’t Stare – Keep Cool) which takes head on the far from uncommon issue of women being stared at by men in public spaces and features Hania Aamir Khan.
Explaining this move, Mavra Khan, Senior Manager, Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company (Sprite’s parent company), says that as a global brand, Coca-Cola wanted to shoulder the responsibility of addressing such issues as part of their communication and that “We were happy to be able to start a conversation around an uncomfortable topic and do it tastefully.”
Nevertheless, as things go in Pakistan, this particular ad did evoke a degree of negativity, especially on social media, where some critics perceived the ad as objectifying women despite the message. Khan’s response is to say that “When we decided to address these challenging conversations in our advertising, we were aware that some negativity would arise, especially as social media is a two-way communication platform,” but stresses that on the whole, the idea was well-received and that the brand has been commended for addressing this significant social issue.
Apart from addressing sensitive social issues, another objective of the campaign was to reignite the popularity of Sprite’s “authentic” glass bottles, which is why we see the celebrities featured in the ads talk about the glass bottle ‘experience.’
The reason here is that apart from cans, Sprite is also available in glass bottles at neighbourhood kiryana stores, paan kiosks and restaurants; these bottles are usually returned to the retailer for refilling and actually form a significant chunk of Sprite’s overall sales and the reason why they are being promoted in the campaign.
In putting together the campaign, which was rolled out across multiple media platforms (out-of-home, digital, TV, radio, print, trade displays, and activations), the brand’s in-house creative team worked closely with Soho Ogilvy Pakistan. Sprite also sponsored influencer-recorded podcasts titled Heat Rant, in which the focus was how they deal with those moments that generate ‘mental heat’ within us.
Talking about the broader objectives of the campaign, Khan points out that Pakistan is counted among Sprite’s three largest markets, with India and Latin America taking the first two spots, making it all the more important that a local perspective be incorporated into the brand’s communication, more so as it was also a question of connecting with Gen Z (essentially the primary target audience) who are known for their willingness to engage in discussions about uncomfortable social issues. “Gen Z is not looking for glossy perfection or aspirational ads; they want a real conversation and it was up to us to be brave enough to push the envelope and raise these issues,” says Khan. “Traditionally, ads for carbonated drinks focus on a cold beverage and a cool (usually male) aspirational figure to go with it. They don’t focus on understanding people’s daily struggles, which are amplified by the heat.”
This said, Khan adds that Sprite is a drink for “everybody” and it was important to cater to the brand’s different audience segments, especially at a time when due to hyperinflation, families who bought a 1.5-litre bottle of Sprite are now trying to make do with a one-litre bottle. Similarly, consumers who previously thought nothing about buying a soft drink when they were outside, now tend to opt to take a bottle of water from home with them, a trend that is reflected in market figures sourced from Statista.
In fact, Statista notes that the carbonated soft drink market in Pakistan (worth $1,651 million) has seen a decline in the rate of growth over the last three years and that given the increase in excise taxes applied this year, the sector is expected to experience a growth of a mere 0.14% annually between 2023 and 2027. This is not something that can be taken lightly by the Coca-Cola Company even if at 37%, it currently holds the biggest share of the carbonated drinks market in Pakistan (of which nine percent is attributed to Sprite), especially because in addition to direct competitors such as 7-Up, new alternatives are emerging every day (energy drinks, flavoured milk, chilled coffees or iced teas), making it all the more imperative for all carbonated drink brands to actively seek ways to maintain or expand their market share.
According to the brand team, this year’s Thand Rakh campaign has proved to be one of Sprite’s most successful campaigns and has exceeded engagement and response metrics, outperforming not only other carbonated drinks within Coca-Cola’s portfolio but also its competitors.
Khan concludes the conversation by adding, “Our initial objective was to build a meaningful connection with Pakistani consumers, and this campaign has allowed us to establish that relevance. Audiences have appreciated the fact that a major brand has taken the initiative to challenge perceptions about important social issues.”