Are we limiting our brands into manufacturer led category definitions?
Brands connect with consumers at a deeper emotional level and transcend categories. Understanding brand semiotic codes can help us find new growth avenues leveraging the current brand assets, and not get restricted into current technology or manufacturing formats.
In this thought-leadership piece, we study the soft drink category and talk of the opportunity Brand Pepsi has to redefine youth cool and keep growing its franchise!
Oye Bubbly: Voice of Youth or Open happiness?
Let me start with a confession. I have been an ardent admirer of Brand Pepsi since my youth! I deeply connected with what the brand stood for even as I was perhaps only an irregular consumer of the soft drink category. (In fact, in India love for this brand has always far exceeded its actual product consumption.) As the brand of ‘The Next Generation’ brand Pepsi stood for a youthful spirit of challenging status-quo towards progress and growth. It was a change agent! Till the time the soft drink category was aspirational, the brand and the category were in sync. For Pepsi, the cola bubbles were symbolic of this very youthful spirit at a deeper semiotic level. However, over the last several years – as the consumers have become more aware, availability of “better-for-you” alternatives have grown, the consumer relevance of the category has been steadily diminishing. The declining category relevance impacts growth of brand Coke too. However, as a brand Coke is anchored in celebrating tradition and in its case the sweet bubbles are symbolic of the sweetness and joy of our relationships. The moments of social fun still find some relevance for a Cola drink. Hence, for brand Coke there is no dichotomy in terms of its inherent core and the product category it is anchored in. Whereas for Brand Pepsi – there is a much deeper dissonance with its core purpose of being a voice of change, in its being tied down to the fizzy cola drink. For many consumers globally, and especially in India – the bubbles are now uncool and the deeper symbology of bubbles representing the youthful spirit has weakened considerably.
Yeh dil maange more: Buying belief systems not just a cola!
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” — Simon Sinek We continue to live in times of social turmoil, with many questions around the state of world affairs and our role in shaping this world! The brand purpose of Pepsi as being the voice of change, a voice of creating a future full of possibilities resonates even louder. This implies a huge headroom for growth for this brand! Within beverages itself – the brand Pepsi could stand for a beverage of the “the next generation” – a product like LifeWater, or an iced coffee perhaps? Its equity transcends far beyond beverages and it can be lifestyle or fashion brand spanning multiple product categories. Few brands have a purpose that “youth” can relate to globally; perhaps Nike – Just do it! Or Apple – Think Different! However, like most traditional businesses with deep investments in the product category, the company chooses to play into the existing product category while consumers buy into a brand!
Change the Game!
The recent incident where Ronaldo moved two Coca Cola bottles at the Euro 2020 press conference may not have anything to do with the correlation being drawn to Coca Cola’s performance on the Wall Street – however, it is certainly telling of his personal view of the category and perhaps of many other less influential consumers! How many of us have reduced consumption of products like Pepsi and Coke? Of course, the category will continue to have relevance for certain cohorts and consumption occasions and the Cola giants can continue to milk that consumption. Shouldn’t the Cola giants fast-track their efforts to transform their portfolio? Even the regulatory environment for this category has tightened with higher taxation and stronger labelling legislation against fizzy, sugary drinks in many markets. PepsiCo started its transformation journey much earlier than Coca Cola and with much higher investment and focus as it bought and integrated the brands Quaker and Tropicana in its portfolio. Isn’t it opportune to signal a stronger and bolder transformation in the interest of protecting long term shareholder value?
Or do we want a 'Tesla' to happen in the beverage space?
Why did Tesla break-in and step change the auto industry versus established automakers? Across categories, disruptive innovation is led by new entrants versus incumbents with deep investments in existing technology. Amazon disrupted the retail industry vs. a brick-and-mortar heavy retail giant like Walmart, and a Netflix disrupted the entire entertainment eco-system with its video subscription model vs. the large studio networks or even Blockbuster. Until the Cola giants are bold enough to self-disrupt, players like Danone with its STōK Cold Brew or Mizone or much lesser known brands would continue to out-grow? As a brand lover, I certainly hope Brand Pepsi can continue to be a change agent! Yeh hi hain right choice, baby! Ah!