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It's star wars for cola majors

April 06, 2005 11:37 IST

The war of the colas could as easily be the war of the stars. The first to break through the summer heat was an early Saif Ali Khan going Khufia starting in February, aimed at notching up pre-summer sales for Pepsi.

But now that the mercury has been rising, the two kings of Bollywood battling for the top slot on the fizz meter are none other than Shah Rukh Khan for Pepsi, and Aamir Khan for Coca-Cola.

Pepsi fired the first salvo when it went "Bubbly" with its flagship brand a fortnight ago. Coke has followed up with its "Manno Bhabhi" commercial that went on air on March 31. Both commercials are a departure from their existing trends.

In fact, avid ad viewers were looking forward to what Coke's ad guru Prasoon Joshi had to offer in his thanda series this summer, but even they were surprised with the ad that featured a hands-on Indian bahu -- Aamir Khan as Manno Bhabhi -- handling a stereotypical Indian situation with a little bit of help from Coke.

While earlier Aamir Khan ads featuring him in various avtaars as a tapori, a Punjabi farmer and the know-it-all Bengali were aimed at expanding the market for consumption out-of-doors, this time round the ad hopes to boost in-home consumption, which is considered a weak segment.

"Since the target product was the 1-2 litre PET bottles generally used at home, it had to be a typical family situation," informs Joshi. This probably explains the tongue-in-cheek language of the spot.

"The only hitch with my Manno Bhabhi idea was that the commercial's central character had to be a woman. It was then I thought of having Aamir as the bhabhi! His double role as the NRI groom was actually suggested by Sanjeev Gupta (CEO of Coke)," says Joshi.

Aamir, he claims, was just as excited about the script. The initial apprehension Coke had about presenting Aamir as a woman was dispelled, since Joshi ensured that the character did not in any way look tacky or vulgar.

Pepsi, meanwhile, had approached its advertising company J Walter Thomson in November 2004 to come up with "something discontinuous", points out Anuja Chauhan, the brain behind the Bubbly ad.

Although the punchline Yeh pyaas hai badi remains unchanged, the Bubbly ad is certainly a break from the past. "We've focused more on the product with its bubbles and fizz, rather than a story," explains Chauhan.

Meanwhile, a controversy appears to be brewing over the use of voiceovers in the commercial, at least one of which resembles cricketer Virender Sehwag who has registered a protest on that account.

While both Coke and Pepsi are unwilling to reveal their spends on these commercials, Coke claims it's  "reasonable". Nevertheless, what's evident is that there's going to be no let down on costs of the two cola giants this summer.

"No one can afford to cut down on ad spends when the market share is growing rapidly," comments Coke CEO Sanjeev Gupta. He claims that even the lower middle classes, who till now offered the traditional shikanji to their guests, have started offering Coke, which they associate as a high-society product.

As the cola season unfolds, besides being feted with various schemes, consumers can hope to be treated to a spate of advertisements by both the cola majors.

Gupta shares that they are in the final stages of talks to rope in two more celebrities -- a movie star and a cricketer -- for endorsements. At the Pepsi camp, Chauhan divulges that there are more ads lined up for the summer campaign.

Refusing to share any details, she quips: "All I can say is that this summer is not going to be thanda but bubbly all the way!"
Prakriti Prasad in New Delhi