Finding gold in old brands

R. SRINIVASAN | Updated on February 29, 2012

Once upon a brand: Campa Cola’s factory inDelhi downed shutters years ago . - Photo: RAMESH SHARMA

Duke’s sodas, a heritage brand in Mumbai - Photo: SHASHI ASHIWAL

Campa Cola: The brand has been kept alive by regional distributorscashing in on its popular appeal

It's often nothing but Pavlovian loyalty to the familiar that gives dead brands a second life.

In a country where half the population was either not born, or was in diapers twenty years ago, reviving a nearly two decades-dead brand might not seem like a smart idea.

But that is precisely what a host of consumer product marketers are trying to do. From soft drinks to soap, desi ghee to detergents, a host of brands which had virtually been consigned to the pages of history are making a sudden comeback.

Beverages giant Coca-Cola revived the Citra brand of clear lemon soda earlier this month, after nearly twenty years. It had acquired Citra, along with Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot, from Ramesh Chauhan's Parle and promptly killed it 19 years ago.

But, just like it found out with Thums Up and Limca, some brands can prove impossible to kill. Despite active de-marketing in the initial years, Thums Up not only hung on stubbornly, but actually grew – faster than the flagship Coke brand, and even outmuscled rival Pepsi Cola's Pepsi brand in the market. Today, Thums Up is the market leader in the Rs 13,000-plus-crore Indian soft drinks market, with an estimated share of close to 16 per cent.

Rival Pepsi faced a similar story with Duke's, a small, but strong-selling Mumbai brand, which it bought from the Pundole family back in 1994. Duke's, launched in 1899 (making it India's oldest soft drink brand) enjoyed an almost fanatical fan following among both Mumbai's mill workers and Parsi elite. While Duke's soda was a favourite working man's order in an Irani café (along with pao and some salt), Duke's raspberry soda was a must at Parsi weddings.

PepsiCo, too, found that trying to kill off the local brands in order to give its global brands space to grow was a volume-limiting strategy. Although Pepsico never officially killed Duke's off, it was a fairly dormant brand.

Now recently re-launched with variants such as masala sodas, ice cream sodas and ginger ale, it is proving a quick draw. “Our realisation, consumer insights and local tastes and products influenced us to re-launch,” says PepsiCo India CEO (Beverages), Praveen Someshwar.

Duke's was out of the market for 5-7 years before Pepsi decided to re-launch it. Admits Someshwar, “Even though they are small categories, we have to learn to handle these small categories. We will look at taking it to other markets, testing it before we decide. We're launching the fourth one as we speak. And, we are testing out some products in the South, whatever suits local tastes.”

“People want something familiar. In some categories more than others, people actively seek out something they have grown up on. Take LG brand asafoetida - the loyalty it commands among southern consumers is inexplicable,” says Kannan Sitaram, Operating Partner, India Equity Partners and former COO of Dabur.

Loyal to the familiar

That need for familiarity might explain why brands such as Campa Cola have staged a comeback. Launched by a former Coke bottler after the exit of the cola multinational in the 1970s and once described by Italian design great Luciano Benetton as the “best fake Coke” he'd ever tasted, Campa Cola died out after the re-entry of Coke and Pesi.

But not everywhere. It was re-launched by a Muzaffarnagar bottler and is now a flourishing rural brand in the North. Says Anshul Agarwal of Alankar Bottling, who says he is getting healthy sales growth with practically zero advertising support, “It's just customer pull. Consumers, particularly in rural areas, are still familiar with the brand and they ask for it,” says Agarwal, who has launched a Facebook fan site for the brand.

Familiarity is key to a brand's longevity, admits Sitaram. “It's the Pavlovian loyalty that people have, which explains why brands such as Kalimark have survived. It's sheer habit, people are comfortable with that brand, so they don't feel the need to change it,” he explains.

Kalimark, one of the brands that survived the onslaught of Coke and Pepsi, is a thriving regional brand in Tamil Nadu. The over 50-year-old brand (launched in 1960) from Kali Aerated Water Works is present in both fizzy and still drinks, has 10 bottling plants across Tamil Nadu - each one being an independent entity owned by the Palaniappa Nadar brothers.

Collectively they sell an average of over 5,000 24-bottle crates a day of Kali cola, along with two sub-brands, Bovonto and Frutang. According to R. Palani Raj, a member of the promoter family, “There are still a large number of die-hard fans for the brand.” In fact, he says, the numbers of these nostalgic fans tribe is growing and “we are not able to meet the demand”.

Fans with long memories also led to the revival of Gopika Ghee, a Punjab brand which Glaxo SmithklineConsumer Healthcare had acquired and subsequently pulled out of the market. When Bharti Walmart was researching consumer preferences for brands in the area, it found a strong pull for the brand, even though it had been defunct for years. It asked the brand owner to revive it and now stocks it in its wholesale cash-and-carry outlets.

With the rural market now having enough mass to justify major investments in brand revival, a growing tribe of consumer goods makers are seeing a viable future in reviving or re-launching yesteryear brands. Learning how to tap the rural market is critical. According to the National Council for Applied Economic Research, rural India now accounts for one in five computers sold, about one in three refrigerators and even a third of automobile sales and close to half the TV market. Rural consumers now use more deo than urban consumers, for instance – and getting the rural equation right can be a bonanza for a brand.

Though Kannan Sitaram tends to disagree. “I won't call it rural versus urban but a more Westernised English-speaking target versus more Indian, more traditional people.

“The challenge for marketers is they have to speak two languages to market to these two Indias,” he says.

According to him, many brands in India are only talking to the aspirational class and not speaking to the masses. This is where the opportunity exists for the old familiar brands to get a foothold back in.

Well, FMCG marketers have clearly spotted the opportunity gap - both in the poorly penetrated rural market and consumers with a long memory in urban pockets - and are seeing gold in old brands.

(With inputs from R. Ravikumar and Vinay Kamath)

Published on February 29, 2012

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