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The new frontier

Thums Up moves away from its individualistic, masculine positioning to be the flag bearer of daredevilry, a la Mountain Dew

Sayantani Kar & Masoom Gupte 

Here’s an old war story with a new twist. has two brands, a cola and a clear drink, among the top three carbonated soft drinks in the country. PepsiCo’s Pepsi is at No 3. But the top cola in Coca-Cola’s arsenal is not Coke, like it is worldwide. It is Thums Up, the homegrown brand it acquired in 1994. When Coca-Cola and Pepsico entered India, they did not leave their legendary rivalry behind. It fell on to battle it out with Pepsi on the ground as well as in its communication. Coca-Cola’s Sprite took upon itself the onerous task of fighting PepsiCo’s non-cola drinks.

Well, the script is changing. has picked out a new opponent — PepsiCo’s citrus — Mountain Dew.

In a move to contemporise Thums Up, Coca Cola has pitted its largest Indian brand against one with a 7 per cent market share but the fastest growing in the fizzy drinks category. In the US, Mountain Dew is the third largest carbonated soft drink, after Coke and Pepsi. In India, Mountain Dew has taken less than 10 years to join PepsiCo’s Rs 1,000-crore-brand club that till last year counted Pepsi, 7-UP and Mirinda as members. For PepsiCo, the rise of Mountain Dew is in line with its increased focus on non-cola beverages. For Coca-Cola, which gets the majority of its sales from outside the United States, this is one more cause for worry.

Enter old war horse The job this time is to take on Mountain Dew, from the stable of what is often referred to as the eternal underdog, PepsiCo. As things stand, Thums Up has a share of 15 per cent of the Rs 13,000 crore fizzy drink market, followed by Sprite with 14 per cent and Pepsi at 12.5 per cent. Coke has 8.5 per cent of the market while Mountain Dew 7.7 per cent.

Here is the crux. Globally, in the most profitable markets carbonated drinks is a shrinking segment — something that PepsiCo predicted and reacted to first, diversifying successfully into categories of products that were perceived more desirable.

And the stakes are high. India is expected to rank among Coca-Cola’s top five markets by the end of the decade. Last year, during a conversation with journalists in Delhi, Ahmet C Bozer, president of the Eurasia and Africa group of the Coca-Cola Co, had said that 16 per cent of Coca-Cola’s total revenue comes from Eurasia and Africa. Of this, 13 per cent comes from India alone. But the opportunity is bigger. We are told Indians consume only 12 200 ml bottles of beverages every year compared with 675 bottles by Mexicans, the largest consumers of Coca-Cola globally.

So the company plans to invest $2 billion in India over the next five years — the size of the investment is equal to what the world’s largest soft drink company has spent in India over the past 18 years since re-entering the country in the year 1993.

Next change
We have four youngsters poring over a map on a terrace. But one of them sips on Thums Up and says ‘Aaj kuch toofani karte hain’. He runs and jumps off the terrace to lead the others across rooftops and down water pipes, using parkour-like movements, to the tune of a racy track that says ‘Boring pe daring ka jacket chadha ke’. We are told at the end of the session that with the new route the gang succeeded in shortening the jour-ney (“30 minute ka raasta 3 minute ka bana diya”).

Cut to two youngsters with skateboards on a ledge. When one of them baulks at the sight, his friend takes a swig from his bottle of Mountain Dew and says, “Darr ko Maro Dew” before letting the bottle go. The camera pans out to show us that he is referring to the 300-feet drop down a dam. He leaps on his skateboard to race the water from the dam’s open gates and dive into the lake beneath.

Both the ads depend heavily on stunts. Each has youngsters as protagonists, who pull off the stunts pull off the stunts with consummate ease, thanks to their respective drinks. The voiceover exorts the viewer to take on more risks. With ‘Aaj kuch toofani karte hain’, Thums Up asks her to avoid the mundane way of doing things and whip up a storm. Mountain Dew asks her to scare the daylights out of fear.

The new code of war is daredevilry and the protagonists are from two different segments.

Then for Thums Up the days of taking potshots at Pepsi are far behind. For close to a decade now it has concentrated on consolidating its ‘macho’ positioning with the movie star Akshay Kumar while Pepsi has continued taking jibes at it from time to time. This time both its ‘Taste the Thunder’ tagline and Kumar are conspicuous by their absence. Coca-Cola says this was done to contemporise its lead brand. Srinivas Murthy, director, marketing (Thums Up and flavours), Coca-Cola India, says the campaign was the result of a search for the new code of masculinity and an attempt to bring it alive. “For an average mid-twenties male, masculinity is no longer about a strong man beating up the bad guys for a girl. That’s the old code. The new definition of masculinity is about challenging the status quo, doing things your own way.” Adds Sainath Saraban, executive creative director, Leo Burnett, the advertising agency that handles the account, “It’s all about taking the thunder out of this strong full-bodied cola and adding it to the consumer’s life.”

Anand Halve, co-founder of chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy, points out that so far Thums Up ads were about the man among the boys, who always remained one step ahead of juvenile male gangs. “The drink is more carbonated than the others and hence consistent with this ‘grown-up’ positioning.” He points out even the brand’s activations were in sync. He recalls one which connected this grown-up stance with the need to have a license to be able to drive. To Halve, the current ad looks too young, with the youngsters trying too hard to get a taste of adventure.

Fearless youngsters, on the other hand, have been integral to Mountain Dew’s imagery since its launch in 2003. This is in sync with how the brand has evolved worldwide from a friendly drink to a high-energy, action-sports oriented brand. In its early days in India, the brand toed the global line with ‘Do the Dew’. In 2007 it moved to a more precise positioning with ‘Dar ke Aage Jeet Hai’.

For the summer of 2012, a new agency on board, Taproot, has meant a new take on this positioning stance. Ruchira Jaitly, executive vice-president, marketing, beverages (flavours), PepsiCo India, says, “‘Darr Ko Maaro Dew’ takes forward the brand ideology of ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’. We urge the consumers to cut the emotion of fear down to size and move ahead with self-belief.”

Mountain Dew began the season with two films, featuring Olympic medalist boxer Vijender Singh and World Champion wrestler Sushil Kumar, which told the stories of how the two overcame their fear. The skateboarding TV commercial followed.

Agnello Dias, chairman and co-founder, Taproot, says, “Mountain Dew works on quenching thirst that results from a dry throat when one is in fear. But we can’t depict facing fear the same way every year. So we had to interpret it in a new way.” The insight is how objects of fear seem to grow more threatening if we continue to fear them and that the whole thing is in one’s mind. The best way to beat fear is to rein it in the mind. “Mountain Dew has always reflected the adventurous spirit of the contemporary youth and our communication has been high-adrenaline and about outdoor adventure,” says Jaitly. The brand over the years has depicted white-water rafting and wingsuit base jumping in its ads. It also launched a neon bottle to dispel the fear of darkness.

Halve says the new Thums Up ad presents an image very similar to that of Mountain Dew. Depicting youngsters drinking out of the bottle and then performing stunts is just another way of asking us to overcome our fears, he says. “Imitation can be the best form of flattery and when the leader does so, it can be telling,” Halve adds.

So far, Coca Cola had deployed Sprite to take on Mountain Dew. Both were clear, citrus drinks and were youth-centric. To Mountain Dew’s ‘Do the Dew’, Sprite had ‘All taste. No gyaan’ and ‘Don’t want to do’. Over the last decade, Mountain Dew took digs at Thums Up and Sprite while Sprite ran spoofs on Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Sprite continues to be tongue-in-cheek, Thums Up will now be walking the adventure talk like Mountain Dew in its activations and consolidating its stronger markets.

Different strokes
The two are also playing to their geographical strengths. The lead in the Thums Up ad is the Telugu movie star, Mahesh Babu, who is popular in Andhra Pradesh, Thums Up’s stronghold, points out Vikas Gupta, former head of marketing at Coca-Cola (he was with the company from 1994 to 2006). “He will also give a youthful face to the national audience. ‘Taste the Thunder’ had always been ‘Toofani Thanda’ in Hindi and audiences are already familiar with the line,” Gupta adds. PepsiCo which had been investing in the northern markets for Mountain Dew, released its first two athlete-films on Doordarshan to connect instantly with the Hindi-speaking heartland, while the skateboard ad released during the ongoing session of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

Coca-Cola is lining up urban Toofani Zones that will replicate its Thums Up Jalsa, which is an action-packed show running in the rural areas for three years now, covering 300 centres and engaging around 2.4 million. It is now encouraging discussions about outdoor adventure on its Facebook page. The conversation threads include ‘Are you planning to relax this Sunday or will you be setting off a toofan with your own Toofani team?’ or ‘Do you sky-dive? Go mountain biking? Share pictures and stories of your most Toofani adventures with us!’

Pepsico is not about to concede any ground either. It is bringing the Mountain Dew Xtreme Tours to India which will have international professionals participating in skateboarding, BMX (Bicycle Moto X) and FMX (Freestyle Moto X) and interacting with the audience across India. The brand has been arranging rapelling, bungie jumping over the years across the country, but the Xtreme Tours promises to beat these in scale. Specially-built ramps will be transported across the country for the performances. The online campaign with the two athletes had already garnered 15,000 entries to qualify for a day’s training with them.

Why a dare?
But why is adventure the new buzzword? Halve says that 10 years ago, everyone wanted to be cast as the investment banker with almost no visible signs of testosterone. “But now you find more and more people quitting their jobs and breaking out of that mould. That is why you will find all kinds of brands talking about bucking the trend, and going away from the beaten track. Be it cars, jeans, beverages or even wristwatches,” he adds. Jaitly agrees, “The ‘can do’ attitude and rebellion are attributes that connect well with the contemporary youth, which explains the increasing adoption of these by different brands.”

With both the brands firm on appealing to the contemporary youth, it could either lead to a fizzle-out, with Thums Up shifting gears or finding a sharper message to differentiate itself from Mountain Dew.

First Published: Mon, April 23 2012. 00:24 IST