Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Give it its Dew

How a clear lemon drink justified its existence in a cola portfolio.

The folks at PepsiCo India may well remember 2007 as the Year of Mountain Dew. This year, the clear lemon drink’s share of the carbonated soft drink market went up to 5 per cent — the brand’s highest-ever since its 2003 launch. Granted, that’s hardly a reason to uncork the bubbly, or even some flavoured fizzy water.

But there are other reasons why PepsiCo is raising a toast to Mountain Dew. In the past nine months, the brand has changed its product formulation, its brand positioning and its communication. Perhaps the only feature left of the original Dew is the name.

That’s quite a change from the past couple of years. Within a year of its launch, Dew had narrowed the gap with market leader Coca-Cola’s Sprite. But it was equally quick to lose all the ground it gained and by 2006 marketshare was at an all-time low. How did PepsiCo turn around its neon cola? the strategist does a case study.

Over the hill
In 2003, Mountain Dew was launched with the high decibel “Cheetah bhi peeta hai” advertising campaign where a group of adventurous boys conveyed the message that the caffeinated beverage delivers a high level of energy: something even a cheetah would find hard to resist.

“The execution was humourous, yet over the top, to exhibit the high energy positioning,” recalls Pratik Pota, vice president, flavours, PepsiCo India. Within a year of launch, Dew had gained 4 per cent of the market, compared to Sprite’s 6.5 per cent.

The action theme continued the following year as well, with commercials of the boys head-butting a wild ram in a fight for their drink. The campaign was clearly targeted at a youthful, masculine audience, what Pota calls the “dew style” of customers.

Meanwhile, the brand brought in the California-based Crusty Demons group to perform extreme stunt biking in Bangalore — the city was selected keeping in mind its cosmopolitan youth. The event was promoted through SMS and online games and contests, apart from on ground events called “Dew Dares”.

The games were held at malls, at a time when large format retail in its infancy attracted a lot of attention.

Whose drink is it, anyway?
The initial effort was to distinguish Dew from other lemon drinks and establish a distinct, adventure sport-themed, youth-centric identity for the brand. While analysts still consider Dew a flanker brand for PepsiCo’s 7Up, Pota explains that Dew targets a completely different customer group.

“In terms of imagery and appeal, Dew is more of a cola. Its source of business is from the cola category. It’s a neon cola,” he declares.

That approach did seem to be working. Dew was clocking double-digit growth (14-15 per cent) in key markets in North India, including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana, areas that were perhaps culturally more tuned into the aggressive brand image.

Across the rest of the country, too, the drink was growing at 7-8 per cent compared to the cola category’s 4-5 per cent. Mountain Dew seemed to be well on course to be a powerful player in the PepsiCo portfolio.

End of the adventure?
That changed by end-2005. The key North markets were growing slowly, dropping more than five percentage points to under 10 per cent. Worse, Mountain Dew’s sales had actually dropped in the other three regions. Dew’s marketshare was down to 3 per cent.

A consumer insight study revealed the not-so-pleasant truth. Dew’s strengths — its brand image and communication — were becoming a liability. Consumer empathy was extremely low for visuals like head-butting a ram, locking horns with a bull and so on. “Consumers found it unbelievable as the commercials were a suspension of belief to some extent. Dew was flirting with those boundaries,” says Pota.

The brand communication had also settled into a predictable format — the commercial beginning with a high adventure scene and signing off with a joke. Importantly, the overt show of masculinity and aggression did not find acceptance across the spectrum.

“The communication was rejected by a set of consumers, particularly from South India,” says Pota.

It didn’t help that the product delivery failed to match up to the expectations built up by the communication — high adventure and energy. “Consumers complained that they didn’t get the same ‘kick’ from the product that they got from the commercials,” says Pota.

Scale the peak
Over the next few months, PepsiCo began salvage operations on Mountain Dew. It needed to work on the product and the communication and the relaunch had to gain credibility on two fronts: with the consumer and within the company.

“We had to go out and change the communication from mindless exaggeration to getting close to the consumers. However, we had to ensure that the brand did not lose its character and we had to carry core consumers along,” says Pota.

The marketing task for 2007 was to widen the franchise of Mountain Dew consumers and build brand empathy across the country. Consumer insights revealed that young consumers in India by and large couldn’t connect deeply with extreme adventure sports — access and affordability being two reasons.

Creative agency JWT, therefore, moved away from the thrill of adventure theme to one that seemed more believable: conquering the fear within.

Working on the concept that fear holds back even confident, capable people, the campaign went to say that those who overcome fear get success, recognition and adulation.

The new tagline, therefore: “Dar ke aage jeet hai (beyond fear lies victory)”. “Few brands acknowledge vulnerability. The theme gave a powerful philosophy to the brand,” says Pota.

The new campaign, which broke in March 2007, stood out for more reasons. It showed older teenagers riding a vehicle over a dangerous terrain, striking a fine balance between believability and thrill. More importantly, it heralded a new, punchier product formulation and a new green-black logo.

To support the action on the ground, Reliance Web World outlets had special corners for consumers to play 30 minutes of customised adventure computer games to experience the brand.

There were other alternatives like co-promotions with youth magazine JAM, a viral marketing campaign for youth to e-mail links of the “Dew Dares” website and so on. The promotion was held from April-June. The relaunch has resulted in a growth rate in excess of 20 per cent, claim company executives. At present, Dew’s marketshare is its highest ever.

“It is much more difficult to turn around a smaller brand that’s declining, than reviving a bigger brand that’s losing share,” says Pota. He adds that consumers and even the brand owners are willing to give larger brands a decent second chance.

Perhaps Dew would have revived itself, but it still has a long way to go before it becomes a worthy challenger to Sprite. The clear lemon drinks segment makes up 35 per cent of all carbonated soft drinks sold in India. Dew certainly has a lot more to conquer than just fear.

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