Who Came First?
Few people know that the first fizzy drinks in India go back to the late 1800s, when local brands like Ardeshi and Duke launched carbonated beverages. The first cola was launched in 1950 by Parle. Based on its flagship product of Parle G glucose biscuits, the drink was called Gluco Cola. There is no reliable information about who designed the logo, but the only print ad on record was designed by cartoonist RK Laxman.
The Global Big Guns
Coca-Cola entered the Indian market in 1956, with the slogan, “Refresh Yourself.”
The Coca Cola logo, which has not evolved drastically over the years, was designed in 1887 by Frank Robinson, who was not a designer or artist, but bookkeeper to founder, Dr. John Pemberton. He also suggested the name ‘Coca Cola,’ saying the two Cs would look good in advertising.
In 1977, after the Indian government imposed regulations and demanded that Coke give up its formula, the company withdrew from the market. They re-entered in 1993, and bought out Parle’s portfolio of drinks, including Gold Spot, Limca and Thums Up. Gold Spot was killed off to make room for Fanta, while Thums Up and Limca – both uniquely Indian brands – were retained.
Coke’s biggest global rival, Pepsi, had already conceded the battle and left the country in 1962 because of slow sales.
In 1990, 28 years later, Pepsi re-entered the Indian market. To adhere to a rule which demanded hybrid names for foreign products, it decided to call its brand Pepsi Era. However, last minute the Indian Government decided this was not Indian enough and forced Pepsi to change the name of the soft drink from Pepsi Era to Lehar Pepsi. Bottles had to be smashed and the new logo and label designed almost overnight.
Pepsi’s campaign with its memorable jingle ‘Yehi hai right choice baby,’ positioned Pepsi as younger and more high-energy and played a big role in the success of the brand.
Unlike Coca Cola, Pepsi has changed its logo multiple times, the most recent change happened in March 2023.
Who can forget the launch of the Pepsi’s previous logo in 2008, which evoked much hilarity and ridicule. Created by the Arnell Group, the brand manual seemed like a parody on jargon-filled brand guidelines – only it was deadly serious!
The Indian’s Government’s Cola
Double Seven was launched in 1977 by the Indian government as part of a strategy to promote domestic products. It was positioned as a patriotic alternative to foreign cola brand.
Unsurprisingly, Double Seven had few takers and was soon withdrawn from the market.
Taste the Thunder
Thums Up was launched by Parle in 1977 to fill the gap in the market left by the withdrawal of Coke. It was positioned as a strong cola, with a uniquely Indian taste for ‘grown-ups’ and this proved to be a defensible space that worked long and hard for the brand. Thums Up was bought by its biggest rival Coca Cola in 1993 and went on to become a billion dollar brand by 2022.
Its logo underwent a modification in 2009, done by Mumbai-based DMA Works.
In 2016, Bisleri entered the fizzy drinks market with a sub-brand called Bisleri Pop. This in turn offered four variants – Limonata, Spyci, Pina Colada and Fonzo. The company exited quickly when Bisleri Pop did not gain any traction.
In 2020, Bisleri relaunched Limonata and Spyci – this time removing the sub-brand Bisleri Pop altogether. Spyci is positioned as a ‘masala cola.’ In the last couple of years, it is unclear whether these brands have made any dent in the market.
Full Circle for Campa Cola
The company Pure Drinks, which had been the bottler for Coca Cola, found itself with spare capacity in 1977. It launched an orange drink under the brand Campa, following it with Campa Cola to compete with the Government’s Double Seven and Parle’s Thums Up. Campa was marketed with the line “The Great Indian Taste.”
However, when the global giants returned to India in the 90s, Campa was unable to maintain its market foothold. In 2022, Reliance bought the brand for Rs. 22 crores and relaunched it in 2023, with a new identity and packaging created by Elephant Design.
Staying true to the Reliance price warrior playbook, Campa is priced lower than Coke and Pepsi.
India’s Cola Market, Five Years From Now
What will India’s cola market look like five years from now?
Formerly, local brands have been unable to match the marketing and distribution might of Coke and Pepsi. This will certainly not be the case with the Reliance-backed Campa.
At least in the short term, it seems that Campa will be able to wrest market-share through a discounting policy.
The biggest carbonated beverage consumers, however, are the youth and for them status signalling and aspiration are important.
Much as the actual product my be similar, each cola brand has claimed and fiercely defended its image. Slogans and campaigns may change, but Coke has always stood for wholesome fun, Pepsi has embraced a younger, more energetic personality and Thums Up has stood by its ‘thunderous taste’ plank.
Bisleri’s Spyci launched in 2020, shows that just distribution and clout are not enough.
Will Campa be able to carve out mindshare and stand for something beyond a lower price? The brand’s long-term fate will be decided by this.
Reading this evokes a lot of nostalgia within me. I can vividly recall being an avid Double Seven fan during my summer breaks at my grandparent’s house, insisting on having a bottle of it every day. My visits to the Campa Cola factory in Delhi were always a highlight, but what really defined my growing up years was my passion for collecting Gold Spot Jungle Book merch and Thums Up World Cup winner team merch. As I read this, I can’t help but feel grateful for those memories and the joy they brought me. I’ll be sure to save this note and cherish the posters you mentioned. Thank you for taking the time to put this together.