September 21, 2008

Thums Up

It is quite common for a country or region to have a signature drink. Usually it is alcoholic in nature. A small sample from the world of beer would include Steinlager (New Zealand), Heineken (Netherlands), Guinness (Ireland), Corona (Mexico), Foster's (Australia), Medalla Light (Puerto Rico), and Budweiser (USA). The king of beers in India is Kingfisher. United Breweries, run by the enigmatic Vijay Mallya, has the lion's share of the Indian beer market and is the third largest producer of spirits worldwide. Although quite tasty, it is not the beverage that unites a people. This honour belongs to a carbonated soft drink: Thums Up.

After Coca Cola was forced to withdraw from India in the 1970's a homegrown cola rose to take its place. With no serious competition in the cola market, Thums Up ruled supreme. In the 1990's government hard restrictions on soft drinks were lifted, and Pepsi and Coca-Cola soon entered the market. Thums Up stood toe to toe against the massive marketing might of Pepsi Cola for a time, until Coke's entry made it a three way tango. The Indian owner of Thums Up eventually relented against this international onslaught and sold Thums Up to Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola would ideally have liked its namesake drink to be the flagship product in its lineup. so it tried to marginalize Thums Up. Reducing its marketing budget and focusing its promotional efforts on Coke were not enough to eliminate the beverage. The nation's love affair with Thums Up was too strong. Deciding to build on its distinctiveness, Coca Cola repositioned Thums Up as a manlier alternative to Coke and Pepsi. As a drink that distinguishes men from boys, Thums Up was a constant source of refreshment during my journeys through India.


Taste the Thunder!