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Coke Vs Pepsi: Selling Spur-of-the-moment Thrills

Ever wondered why Pepsi and Coke have been at each other’s throat for years? Most of the writing about fighting misses the real reason. The battle is not in the continuance of old rivalry, it is really about the category in which the two brands exist: impulse-purchased products. Companies working in this category need to understand it thoroughly and use this knowledge intelligently.

In many countries, agencies are organised by categories. Account planners, creative and servicing people specialise in categories and tend to move from agency to agency along category-lines. In fact, recruitment of advertisements specifies the kind of category experience required for the job. Brand managers to move along similar lines. This leads to an in-depth understanding of category consumer behaviour and competitive forces, which in turn sparks better marketing strategies and impactful communication.

In comparison, Indian advertisements are full of generalists. It is common to have one account team handling products as diverse as tractors, ice-cream, suitings and computers simultaneously.

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Impulse purchases are products or services bought on the spur of the moment. Typically, these products are low-priced, frequently bought and quickly consumed. Ready availability is very important in this category which includes goods like soft drinks, sweets and candies, ice-cream, minor items of clothing like ties, ribbons and headbands, magazines, greeting cards, and gifts. Often, we buy them simply because we feel like a treat or they take our fancy. Hence, the criticality of distribution in this category. If these products are not seen, they are not bought.

To understand the category further, let’s look at it from an economist perspective. In almost all such cases, the markets are oligopolistic, with a maximum of two to four players dominating the market. In most cases, the oligopolies are the result of takeovers and consolidation.

In the Indian context, the soft drink market is essentially a duopoly – Coke and Pepsi. And, it will essentially remain that way. No matter how hard Cadbury Schweppes tries, it will remain a niche brand. This also implies that the primary battle is for market share and hence the intensity of competition is high. Each and every move by a player attracts retaliation.

So, what is needed to be a successful marketer in this category? Three things, really:

High awareness

Easy availability

High emotions

HIGH AWARENESS: This has two components- one is media awareness the other relates to point of consumption. The first one means large advertising spends, and simple messages repeated umpteen times. Remember ‘The zing thing’ or ‘ Taste the Thunder’ or ‘ Always Coca-Cola’. Simple and memorable. Those are the keywords. If you can’t get your message across in four-five words, forget it.

Essentially, the category leader dictates the awareness level. Once that has been established, the number two player needs to find a lever which will ensure a position close to the leader, with less money spent. Obviously, an attack on the key proposition in the idea is the easiest way of doing it. ‘Please remember me when you remember the market leader’ is the most effective platform for number two and leaves little room for number three.

This is the reason the Minto advertising attacking Polo was immediately noticed, and effective. Contrary to what the spate of articles in the press made out, it wasn’t comparative advertising which was at work here. In fact, if Britannia wants to make headway in the Glucose biscuit category, it should follow a similar strategy against Parle-G. Are you listening, Godrej Foods? Go launch an attack against the Frooti chaps with Jumpin.

All effort for high awareness through media should be backed by high visibility at outlets. For, the more visible brand at the outlet will benefit. Coke understands this well, which is why it has bought out every shop frontage, sides, walls and even stretches of slums in Mumbai. It’s also the reason Cadbury chocolates have a very prominent shelf presence in containers especially designed and given to shop-keepers.

EASY AVAILABILITY: If you are seen, you are consumed. This is one category where width determines market share. But easy availability goes beyond the purchase point. Successful marketers in this category need to find innovative ways of ensuring the availability of their brand at different consumption occasions and time.

Frooti is one brand which understood early the importance of distribution and consciously tracked its availability. One company that can benefit largely if its attempts to improve its availability is Cadbury. Chocolate, as a category, is ideal for the home consumption market but so far Cadbury has not focused on it. The same is true of Parle. It should consciously focus with new pack sizes and target communication to improve its stocking at home.

In fact, most of the time the brand management and client servicing teams should concentrate on new package and usage occasion possibilities. Any innovation or breakthrough in this can give the brand an edge over others. Unfortunately, too much time is spent by both on coming up with short term promotions or events.

HIGH EMOTION: The key differentiation in this category is emotion. How else could brown coloured, sweetened water become a multi-billion dollar proposition? Brand personality can make or break the brands in this category. The trick lies in finding a relevant and credible personality. Much of Coke’s problem in India can be attributed to this. It is stuck with lacklustre creative. The company should now make up its mind about whether it wants growth or a relationship with an international agency. Remember the impact of Thumps Up made with the first set of ‘Taste the Thunder’ commercials. Somewhere down the line, the agency got carried away and gave away an excellent brand emotion and in the bargain lost the account.

Coke’s success in the US is built on a series of advertising campaigns which stirred up the right emotion. And Pepsi made its impact felt when it identified the right emotion with ‘Choice Of A New Generation’. Closer home, Cadbury has seen a smart turnaround in recent years after it put back emotion into its advertising. Gold Spot had identified the right emotion with ‘The Zing Thing’. Where is the emotion in the Fanta commercial?

So, how does a brand find the right emotion? Companies in this category need to focus their research efforts at continuously tracking customer attitudes towards a variety of things because brands always exist in a larger context.

Any new significant trend becomes an input in their advertising. Brand managers and account handlers need to keep a continuous tab on their target audience. That’s the only way to ensure that your brand remains emotionally relevant. So next time you see another Pepsi Vs Coke fight, look at the category rule.

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Coke Vs Pepsi: Selling Spur-of-the-moment Thrills. (2021, Feb 05). Retrieved October 1, 2021, from