The cola wars are an annual entertainment fixture. In April, both Coke and Pepsi launch their summer campaigns - and junta has one more topic to debate in canteens and commuter trains - kaun sa ad is better?
For years, in India, Pepsi was the more creative advertiser. Then, Coke and the Aamir-Ashutosh team came up with the 'thanda matlab' series. It was a runaway hit. Meanwhile, Pepsi struggled on, changing its winning 'dil maange more' tagline to the more literal 'yeh pyaas hai badi'.
This year, the tables turn once again. The Coke ads have lost their fizz. Aamir as Manno Bhabhi isn't getting wah-wahs. The sequel, where Aamir plays Manno bhabi AND the servant Dinu kaka is an even bigger damp squib.
Pepsi's 'Oye Bubbly' isn't winning universal accliam - but, it's got a catchy jingle. And Shahrukh Khan. In a world where celebrities wax and wane, Pepsi is lucky to have SRK on their side. A man who always seems to stay on the right side of the audience.
Does it matter?
At the end of the day, I don't think cola advertising really influences drinking habits. Based on taste, there are distinct preferences. I like Pepsi (sweeter, less fizzy), others may prefer Coke or Thums Up.
But at the end of the day if Pepsi is not available, for example at McDonald's, I'll take Coke instead. As would most cola drinkers.
What the cola wars do is keep interest alive in the category as a whole. What's more disturbing for cola companies is that their drinks are being perceived as unhealthy and/ or full of empty calories.
A recent survey conducted by JAM magazine asked junta (109 girls, 114 boys, aged 15-24) to complete the following sentence:
If I'm hot and thirsty I'll probably pick up a...
51% of the girls answered - Water!
Only 23% said 'soft drink', with nimbu pani and fruit juice coming in 3rd and 4th
On the other hand, 'soft drink' was the top choice for boys (37%) followed by water (24.6%), nimbu pani and (!) beer.
Reacting to the new wave of calorie consciousness. both Coke and Pepsi have introduced diet versions. Personally, I hate the after taste of diet drinks and would rather forgo the cola. But I know plenty of young people will be quite happy to go diet.
However, both Pepsi and Coke are getting into juice, and flavoured water - just to hedge their bets. If folks do actually shift from colas, they should shift to healthy drinks offered by them!
That's the reason Pepsi bought out Tropicana a few years ago for $ 3 billion (Coke owns Minute Maid). And they are also busy buying out juice and water companies in Europe.
In India, Pepsi and Lipton have introduced bottled ice tea. Amul has just launched 'spicy buttermilk' in a tetrapak (Rs 5 only). While Godrej has relaunched its almost-defunct XS brand with trendier packaging and exotic flavours.
The battle to quench our thirst just got hotter. Dil maange more (colas) or dil maange aur (healthier drinks) - that is the million rupee question. I think it will be a mix of both.
Variety after all is the spice of life. You know colas aren't 'good' for you but well, that's part of the attraction. All health and no fun would make Jai a dull boy, wouldn't it?