The Never Ending Cycle: A Study on the Evolution of Thums Up
Exactly 35 years ago, the Chauhan brothers of the Parle Group launched a new cola drink, Thums Up. The purpose was to fill the void created due to the departure of Coca Cola from India. The newly formed Janta party government was driving out foreign companies and Thums Up grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
The name and logo is said to have been derived from a particular mountain in the hills of Manmad, Maharashtra. The peak of this particular hill was in the shape of a thumb pointing upwards. It is important to note that the colour of the logo was Red, portraying itself as a replacement for Coca Cola. As of February, 2012 is the leader in the cola segment in India and on top with Sprite as the leader in the aerated markets segment.
In the early pre-Coke days, Thums Up positioned itself as a Refreshing Drink and refrained from using the word Cola. Some popular tag lines were ‘Thums Up Makes it Great’ and ‘Happy Days are here Again.’ Its early television advertisements usually had a group of young boys and girls on a beach enjoying Thums Up, with a jingle either a foreign woman or someone with a thick foreign accent. Obviously, it was important to position itself as a cool choice to catch the attention of the urban youth. There were others in the aerated markets like Campa Cola, Dukes, Double Cola but Thums enjoyed a near Monopoly.
With the opening of the Indian markets in the 90’s, Pepsi was the first to enter the fray. Its marketing campaigns were primarily driven by using Bollywood stars like Juhi Chawla. In turn, Thums Up turned to Cricketers. Another major event during this war was the changing of the volume of bottle from 250 ml to 300 ml. This new bottle was called ‘Maha Cola’ and gained popularity in the smaller towns. 1993 then saw the return of the global behemoth Coca Cola. What could have been an intriguing three way battle instead became a sell-out. Parle Agro sold their popular brand to Coca Cola for $60 million. It is not difficult to deduce why the Chauhans would do this. A battle could’ve ensued for some time but given the size of the two MNC’s, the endless cash reserves and marketing expertise, it was always going to be a skewed battle.
The grapevine in the market was that Coca Cola would kill brand Thums Up and the usual Coke Vs Pepsi battle would be played out in India as it does in the rest of the world.It should be noted that an entire generation had grown up with brand thums Up and the connect was too deep. However, by luck or realisation, Coca Cola did not such thing. Thums Up continued to dominate the Indian market and continues to do so till date. However, significant changes were made. Blue streaks were added to the logo to reduce the percentage amount of red which was in direct conflict with the Coca Cola logo. The Positioning of the brand was also altered radically. It moved towards a more individualistic, masculine positioning. This was in line with the relatively stronger taste that it had. This change in the mid 90’s was perfectly timed with the new found confidence in the Indian male. Males were in any case the primary consumers of Thums Up. An outdoor, adventurous, alpha male representation was the right mix.
Salman Khan emerged as the brand ambassador of Thums Up in this time. It seemed a logical choice to have some hatke from the chocolate boy heroes of the film industry. It also came at a time when the advertisements started depicting that Thums Up was not a drink for kids, obviously appealing to the egos of adolescents. Salman continued as the ambassador for a considerable period until endless controversies finally forced the company to drop him as the ambassador. Enter the original Mr. Khiladi, Akshay Kumar. His graph had been on the rise and too fit the image of alpha male. Being known as an action hero only added to his utility. At this time the positioning started altering. The focus was still on the masculinity. However, masculinity was not too be defined by stunts or fighting or races. In a particular advertisement Akshay Kumar initially refuses to race, then agrees but never leaves the finishing line. He concludes by saying ‘bache to gaye to the lady.’ Hence, brainy is the new sexy. Akshay Kumar continues to be the brand ambassador for the time being and in many subsequent advertisements was shown doing death defying stunts to get that 1 more Thums Up. Messes up my concepts of marginal utility, but I guess Mr. Kumar has his reasons.
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