Target Market Project
A Closer Look at:
Thums Up Cola
Coca Cola and the Indian Market
1. The Organization: A Brief History of Coca Cola in India
There are few brands that have the privilege of being a symbol of nationalism; Germany’s Krupp
Ironworks, England’s East India Trading Company, Finland’s Nokia. But there is one king of the international
castle, whose brand value is currently the highest in the world, an estimated 66.7 billion USD (1). Founded in
1892 (2), The Coca Cola Company stands as an enduring symbol for capitalism, globalization and America.
How did this one company come to and maintain such an elevated status? To put it simply: through
understanding the factors of globalization. This is perhaps most evident in India, where one may not necessarily
find the bright red logo and cursive spelling of America’s favorite soft drink, but rather, a humble gesture of
goodwill and manliness on a glass bottle of Thums Up Cola. By adapting to the sociocultural and competitive
climate of India, Coca Cola truly comprehends what it means to be a global company.
To understand how Coca Cola successfully penetrated the difficult to reach Indian market, one must
look back almost three quarters of a century to a world of global conflict and struggle. Coca Cola’s pledge
during the Second World War, that "every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents, wherever he
is, and whatever it costs the Company." (2) This expanded the corporate empire to all corners of the globe. Even
General Eisenhower, the great logistician, sent a telegram in 1943 to request supplies for ten Coca Cola bottling
plants in Europe (4). Following the victory of the Allied Forces in 1945, the beverage was available in 120
countries all around the world, establishing a significant foothold in the international community.
Although there is little information as to how Coca Cola initially established dominance of the Indian
soft drink market, it can only be speculated that it was related to the independence from the British Raj in 1946,
a time when the nation would most likely have had to search for international investors. What is known,
however, is when Coca Cola was expelled from India. In 1977, the Janta party came into government office and
established the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) (5). This would require Coca Cola to disclose the
beverage’s secret formula. As the formula is a trade secret, and not a patent, its disclosure would have had
tremendous negative consequences for the company in the long run. So, with tremendous foresight, Coca Cola
abandoned their Indian investments, and left the country.
In the sixteen years that Coca Cola would be absent from the Indian grocery stores and restaurants, the
invisible hand would conjure a plethora of cola companies to seize their share of the soft drink market. Brands
like Campa Cola, Double Seven, and “The most trusted brand in India”: Thums Up became almost instant hits
nationwide. Slowly but surely, Thums Up would become the leading soft drink in India, with its strong flavor
and positive logo reinforcing Indian sociocultural values.
The early nineties were a time of great economic change in the Indian cola market. More relaxed
legislation toward foreign investors allowed Coca Cola to re-enter India, but also let in Pepsi-Co, their leading
American competitor. What ensued was a bitter three way power struggle to quench the thirsts of the Indian
populace. Pepsi began an advertising campaign criticizing Coke (6). Coca Cola began their own campaign
criticizing Thums Up and Pepsi (5). Thums Up, however, began an advertising campaign very similar to the
Stroh’s beer commercial discussed in class, involving a man walking through the desert.
Utilizing the wisdom from past global endeavors and cash reserves earned through over one hundred
years of success, Coca Cola rethought their Indian strategy. In what may be the foresighted business move of
the twentieth century, Coca Cola purchased Thums Up for a pittance of 60 million USD, with the intention to
phase out the Thums Up product line altogether. Quickly realizing that, as they deleted the Thums Up product
line, Coca Cola was losing a significant overall market share to Pepsi, and a new tactic was needed to succeed.
Adapting to the strong pre-existing branding of Thums Up in Indian culture, the cola was re-positioned
to reflect its strong flavor and macho image (5). It began to phase out distribution of its flagship beverage, Coca
Cola Classic and utilizing the pre-established infrastructure of Thums Up’s bottling plants and distribution
channels, is running full steam ahead into India’s economic future.
2. The Target Market
Because Thums Up is a national brand specific mostly to India, Coca Cola is targeting Indians. This is
reflected very beautifully by their emphasis on Indian culture in its promotional efforts, such as the use of the
idiomatic “Thanda,” a word which means both “cold” and slang for cold beverages. During its time as an
independent cola company before its acquisition by Coca Cola, Thums Up established a strong “macho image”,
reflected in its strong flavor and promotional campaigns such as the very popular “Grow Up to Thums Up!”
campaign (9). In addition, it’s somewhat steep 10 rupees price meant exclusivity for the wealthier, city dwelling
classes (5). This has led it to be traditionally targeted to Indian, urban, adult males; however, Coca Cola has
ambitions to reach the more rural communities of India, as they compose the majority of the population.
3. The Marketing Mix
While Coca Cola’s original plan had been to sell their flagship beverage, Coca Cola Classic, they
settled with the local favorite, Thums Up. This is a clear and responsible choice considering
sociocultural values of India, in their preference for a more strongly flavored beverage.
In their effort to reach the rural market, comprising of approximately 96% of the population,
Coca Cola had to make Thums Up more affordable. Given that a normal, 300ml bottle costs 10
rupees, and the average daily wage of a rural Indian is 100 rupees, the cola was traditionally seen
as a luxury item (5). To counteract this, Coca Cola introduced a smaller 200ml bottle of Thums
Up at half the price, allowing more accessibility to the common Indian.
By purchasing a pre-established cola company, Coca Cola is able to save tremendous costs on
infrastructure. The bottling factories and most marketing channels are already in place. Given the
ambitions for reaching more rural areas, however, more channels must be developed further.
Thums Up is still widely available nationwide in India, however, as multiple channels are
utilized. The cola is sold in grocery stores, restaurants and vending machines allowing greater
Coca Cola has done extremely well promoting Thums Up, particularly in regards to the
sociocultural values of India. The logo, for instance, is very symbolic in Indian culture, as it very
closely resembles the Manmad Hills, a natural formation that looks like the mountains are giving
local train riders a “thumbs up” (8). In addition, building upon the macho image established by
Thums Up before the acquisition, a new television and internet campaign featuring one of India’s
most famous actors, Akshay Kumar has been very well received. Kumar is depicted in many
manly scenarios, parkouring across the Indian cityscape, beating up bank robbers while blind,
and mastering seduction, holding true to the cola’s manly image. (10) The videos on YouTube
have currently reached over 150,000 views, a large enough amount to be considered at viral, or
internet meme status.
Overall, Coca Cola’s marketing mix of Thums Up synergizes very well toward the target market. The
product is of Indian origin and contains symbols of Indian culture. The price change and different sized
bottles allow the product to be purchased by both the urban and rural communities. The supply chain
management still needs to be perfected to reach the rural areas, but given the already established
infrastructure of Thums Up, and multiple distribution channels, the cola is widely available. Most
importantly, the choice of a very famous and recognizable actor as a spokesman reflects well on India’s very
popular Bollywood film culture.
There is little to critique about such a wise strategy that Coca Cola has orchestrated with Thums Up Cola.
Although some mistakes were made, such as initially planning on eliminated the entire Thums Up line in
exchange for Coke Classic, Coca Cola is quick to recognize when mistakes are made and to correct them. This
perhaps comes from managerial knowledge acquired over their rich and successful history. One area of interest
may be to expand the product line of Thums Up to include a diet, or no calorie version of the cola. Given Coca
Cola’s international access to aspartame (in Diet Coke) and sucralose (in Coke Zero) and the constantly
fluctuating price of sugar in India, this may be a financially wise decision (11). It would allow Coca Cola to
gain stability at times when prices are too high.
Coca Cola’s decision not to include a diet cola in the Thums Up line may be practical, however, as it may
not correspond well to the strong flavor the Indian people prefer. In addition, diet cola may be a specifically
American product, given the obesity epidemic.
1. Foundations of Marketing: Textbook
a. Chapter 9
2. Coca Cola’s Official History
3. A Brief History of Coca Cola
4. Eisenhower’s Telegram to Coca Cola
5. A Detailed Report on Coca Cola India
6. A Pepsi Commercial Attacking Coca Cola
7. Foundations of Marketing: Textbook
a. Chapter 10
8. Manmad Hill
9. A Case Study in Thums Up Branding
10. Akshay Kumar’s New Thums Up Commercial
11. A Report of the Fluctuating Sugar Prices in India
Used by permission of Andrew Berthold.