How Sprite entered the billion-dollar club


October 28, 2022

Christina Moniz
Mumbai, October 28, 2022

Earlier this week, global soft drinks major Coca-Cola Company announced that its Iemon and lime flavoured carbonated drink, Sprite, had become a billion-dollar brand in the Indian market. While Chairman and CEO James Quincey attributed much of Sprite’s India success to “locally adapted, occasion-based global marketing campaigns and screen time,” industry experts outline a few other factors such as consumer preferences that have also worked in the brand’s favour.

Lemon and lime drinks are not new to the Indian consumer’s palate, which provides a large baseline demand for brands such as Sprite, remarks Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight. “Some consumers also perceive clear lemon-based and non-caffeinated drinks to be more natural and healthier than colas, even if the actual ingredients may be far from healthy,” he says.

This set of consumers is seemingly quite large as according to a syndicated study by Kantar, Sprite has a household penetration of 11%, which is the highest for a beverage brand.

What have helped are the lingering doubts over cola beverages after the pesticide controversy in the early 2000s, giving brands like Sprite a leg up. While the pesticide allegations are no longer a talking point, Naresh Gupta, cofounder and chief strategy officer, Bang In The Middle, points out that social media and unsubstantiated Whatsapp forwards continue to create concern around the consumption of colas.

“Although cola brands dominate the aerated drinks market, brands like Sprite carry the imagery of being a safer drink and so a large section of consumers see it as an alternative. Credit also goes to Sprite’s communication, which has made it a cooler, friendlier brand. Contrast this with the colas, which have a more hard-core imagery attached to them,” explains Gupta.

Keeping It Clear

In 1999, Sprite was launched in India with the tagline, ‘Sprite bujhaye only pyaas, baki all bakwaas, positioning itself as a basic thirst quencher. Since then, it has continued with the same positioning although its taglines changed regularly- from ‘seedhi baat, no bakwaas, clear hai!’ in 2008 to its current tagline ‘thandrakh’.

Ajay Gahlaut, group chief creative officer, Dentsu Creative, who worked on Sprite’s advertising between 2007 and 2018, takes great pride in its billion dollar success in the country. Gahlaut, who was at Ogilvy India when working on the brand, explains that the ‘clear hai’ message was a key part of the brand’s communication, one that also cleverly played on the drink’s clear appearance. “Sprite was always a counter-culture brand, went against the grain and for the most part, stayed away from celebrity endorsements. Working on the brand was sometimes a challenge because we had to think of taglines that were slightly provocative, but which still resonate with the younger consumers,” he explains. With each tagline, the focus was on keeping the communication no-nonsense and upfront, and the brand’s consistent tone of voice paid off well, Gahlaut points out.

Over the years, Sprite has been able to create a distinct brand persona that sets it apart from other beverage brands in the market, notes Nisha Sampath, managing partner, Bright Angles Consulting. She states, “Taglines, endorsers and stories may change with time and generations, but the brand’s persona has not changed, nor has its connect with the youth. The ‘clear hai’ line encapsulates Sprite’s marketing and communication strategy, and it is a classic example of how strong positioning is timeless.”

Other Trends At Play

The non-alcoholic beverages category in India is expected to reach Rs. 1.47 trillion by 2030, with a CAGR of 8.7% according to an ICRIER report. While colas continue to dominate the market, lemon and other flavoured drinks are not far behind. Ankur Bisen, senior partner and head, retail, consumer products and food, Technopak Advisors believes there are multiple niche trends that are supporting the growth of the non-cola aerated beverage category. One such trend is that clear carbonated drinks like Sprite are popular alcohol mixers, making them a natural extension to alcohol as a market.

He observes, “The brand has also got the right SKU (stock keeping unit) sizes – from small 250ml bottles to the big packs. Beyond its advertising, the brand has got its retail placement absolutely right, and that is where half the battle is won. Additionally, both 7UP and Limca are also seeing muted growth, and that has helped Sprite become the leader in this category.”

Gupta too notes that Pepsi could have done more to build the 7UP brand, but its lost opportunity has allowed Sprite to gain ground. He adds that Sprite continues to stay relevant and visible, through its advertising and distribution, which is why it has captured the lemon based drinks segment.

(With inputs from Akanksha Nagar)