Cultural Brand Failures: Is Coca-Cola really the best Cola in India?

According to Forbes, the the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act passed in 1974, which forced around 54 multi-national companies to exit India, as the Indian Government wanted to promote indigenous industries. Companies like Coca-Cola, IBM and Mobil had exited India by 1978 (Forbes, 2014).  An article from BusinessToday stated that the Chauhan Brothers introduced their own cola brand in India called Thums Up in 1977, which was stronger and fizzier (Business Today, 2009). In 1993 when Coca-Cola bought Thums Up, the latter had a 36 per cent market share in the industry (BusinessToday, 2009).

Coca – Cola failed culturally because Thums Up was made in India conforming to the Indian taste buds. Indian food is predominantly spicy and a fizzier and sweeter drink just complemented it. When Coca-Cola acquired Thums Up – instead of focusing on their target audience’s taste profile, they decided to give Coke and Thums up equal weightage. Indians chose Thums Up over Coca-Cola consistently. Coca-Cola  possibly could have scaled much faster if they had focused on making the local favourite their primary product in India, instead of attempting to make Coke the local favourite.  

However, it was still a smart decision to acquire the local Parle brands Thums Up and Limca which put them ahead of their biggest competitor Pepsi. According to Industry reports, Thums Up and Sprite are the leading Coca-Cola sub-brands with a market share of 14.8% and 15% respectively. Coca-Cola has a market share of 56.7% in India and is the leading beverage brand (BusinessToday, 2013).

pepsimarketshare_070213044542.jpg

(http://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/features/a-rough-summer-for-pepsi-in-india/story/196312.html)

The tagline “Taste the Thunder” was advertised as a jingle which became viral. Having been brought up in India, I never read the tagline, I sing it. The brand personality screamed adventure, excitement and toughness — rightly targeted to the younger generation which had just started challenging cultural norms in the society. They also generated sales through celebrity endorsements – another smart move considering that Bollywood is one of the biggest revenue generators in India. They chose, Akshay Kumar, an action hero as their brand ambassador which fits their brand personality perfectly. Thums Up is now more than just a product for Indians especially the youngsters. It has gained emotional value and immense brand loyalty, which gives us assurance that the brand will survive.   

thumsup1986.jpg

 1986 (http://www.cuttingthechai.com/2007/08/257/adholics/)

1978-Thums-Up.jpg

(http://oldindianads.com/print/1978-thums-happy-days)

Here is a TV Commercial staring Akshay Kumar from 2008.


Forbes (2014) Economic Milestone: Exit of the MNCs(1977). Available at: http://www.forbesindia.com/article/independence-day-special/economic-milestone-exit-of-the-mncs-(1977)/38431/1(Accessed:15 October 2016).
BusinessToday(2009) The Brand that refused to die, Available at: http://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/cover-story/the-brand-that-refused-to-die/story/4179.html (Accessed:15 October 2016).
BusinessToday(2013) A rough summer, Available at:http://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/features/a-rough-summer-for-pepsi-in-india/story/196312.html (Accessed:15 October 2016).
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