Case Study – Brand Thums-Up

Born: 1977
History: Launched in India by Parle Agro Pvt. Ltd. Now owned by Coca-Cola.

India Status: Market share is a much disputed subject in the cola industry—yet some insiders, who claim to be in the know, say that Thums Up accounted for 50 million of the 550 million cases sold in the carbonated drinks segment in 2007, and the brand is the largest selling cola in India, with a share larger than that of Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Brand story:

Thums Up was launched by Parle Agro Pvt. Ltd to fill the void left by the government ban on American soft drinks giant Coca-Cola in the 1970s. The thumbs-up logo was adopted early on, but the brand was positioned differently then.

“Thums Up was earlier positioned as a refreshing cola, with slogans such as Thums Up Makes it Great and Happy Days are here Again. It was post-1996 that the brand moved towards a more individualistic, masculine positioning,” says Kashmira Chadha, director of marketing at Coca-Cola.

Things changed post liberalization, when Thums Up faced stiff competition from Pepsi and Coke. After a tough fight, the Chauhan brothers, owners of Parle Agro, finally sold Thums Up to Coca-Cola.

Though Thums Up enjoyed a market share of around 30% at the time, Coca-Cola focused all its energy on promoting the Coke brand.

“Any outsider will not be able to fathom the equity that the brand Thums Up enjoys among its target group. Coca-Cola did not understand it either. It was busy fighting Pepsi with its brand Coke,” says Arvind Sharma, chairman, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, the creative agency that has handled the Thums Up account since the 1990s.

While Coca-Cola refutes the suggestion that it tried to kill Thums Up in India, people in the industry think otherwise.

“They tried to divert Thums Up loyalists to Coca-Cola in a concerted way,” says a person who used to work with Parle Agro.

“By the time Coca-Cola and Pepsi came to India, a whole generation had grown up drinking Thums Up. Their connect with the brand was not easy to break,” says a senior media buy er involved with the brand who did not wish to be identified.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola also realized that about half its sales were on account of Thums Up; killing the brand at a time when competition with Pepsi was intense would mean losing that much in sales.

Around 1995, Coca-Cola began focusing on the brand—its positioning changed, to a more masculine brand. “The strategy was rooted in the simple insight that India is a market where most of the soft drink consumption is outdoors, and a majority of consumers are male. Using the strong taste of Thums Up, we repositioned the brand by marrying the taste to our target group,” says Sharma.

In the recent past, the 31-year-old brand has held on to its market share. “For a brand as iconic as Thums Up, one does not need to innovate; it is consistency that won the consumers over and it is, therefore, consistency that we offer them,” says Chadha.


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