They say two’s company, three is a crowd. Well, it’s certainly getting crowded at the top of the food chain in the carbonated soft drink (CSD) category in Nigeria.
What originally was a street party between two age-long rivals suddenly got livelier, gatecrashed by the newest kid on the block. Don’t get me wrong, there was never any love lost in the first instance. Just check out Pepsi vs Coke commercials to see the amount of bile and cheekiness over the years.
Back in Nigeria, the Cola landscape got even more interesting the moment AJE Group, owners of Big Cola, set sail from Lima to Africa and pitched up in its largest economy. Conventional wisdom says they’ve been coasting ever since, as not only did they succeed in getting themselves noticed in such a short time, they’ve now managed to ignite (with a huge dose of chutzpah) a full scale ‘f%*k-sh&t-up’ direct assault on the two giants (pardon my French). Apparently, they brought brawn with their brains. A lesson in not judging a book by its cover.
They started off by launching an entry strategy that was true to their name – great size meets good price and boom, they became the darlings of the category, quantity being its most crucial value driver. After all, the average consumer may struggle to tell the difference of all 3 products if poured in the same unlabeled bottle. You could even argue that they all taste alike, even though Big Cola’s zero caffeine content, makes it a much “healthier” consideration for the most pedantic consumer, especially adults and children. Next, they literally enticed, read that as “famzed”, the mass market aka “the streets”. Their execution was firmly rooted in door to door activations and promotions which brought about aggressive sampling.
Crucially they achieved all these with little or no advertising, in line with their famed global marketing strategy of low-cost operations and clever marketing. We know after all that when it comes to big bucks, they don’t possess anywhere near the fortune of the bigger players, who could boast of heritage and reach.
Anyway, fast forward post launch and the big players were forced to react. If they were coasting before, they now had their work cut out as equity and market share began to tumble.
Pepsi moved quickly to develop the aptly named “Long throat” campaign, increasing the size of its pet bottle. I don’t have the stats but it appears the campaign was a resounding hit as the brand brought all its pizazz and celebrity star power to sway an eagerly excited audience. The execution was flawless making it a trending topic online, subsequently winning several awards at marketing festivals. Coca-Cola was forced into a similar approach with a “40% FREE LIMITED TIME OFFER” in PET bottle size around the Xmas holiday, accounting for the brief time span of the campaign.
All of the above made for quite an eventful Year 2016 in the CSD world, despite the excruciating effects of the recession (the most used word in Nigeria at the time). Recent events in the current year 2017 suggests all three brands must have gone back to the proverbial drawing board. We are beginning to notice the outcome of what must have been endless sleepless nights, meetings, consultations and strategic sessions.
First, while still maintaining a strong appeal in its debut category, the makers of Big Cola seem to have shifted focus to new grounds with the launch of their energy drink – Big Volt. A category that interestingly has Coca-Cola also aggressively promoting its latest product, Monster. Compared to CSD however, we could argue that there’s a unique difference in this category as premium quality seems to drive consumer preference, which explains why big players such as energy giants Red Bull and Power Horse thrive.
Back in CSD world and there was a temporary lull, even though everything seemed to be going according to plan. It seems Coca-cola made the first move by introducing smaller PET 35cl bottles, that retails for between 80-100 Naira. Fairly priced, the cute bottles appeared the perfect solution for the average consumer to still get good value despite the recession.
This was supposed to be another high after the impressive “Share-a-coke” 2015 campaign, but it was upended by what must have been a really low point – a high-profile case at the high court where a judge ruled that some popular soft drinks sold under the Coca-Cola brand in Nigeria could be poisonous, leaving Nigerians outraged as seen below:
“No longer drinking Coca Cola products in Nigeria. Short story, they are not fit for consumption,” Onye Nkuzi, based in Nigeria, tweeted.
“Nigerians should boycott Coca-Cola products until foreign experts come to certify their products in Nigeria safe for consumption,” Henry Asede said on Twitter.
Not to be out-shined, Pepsi doing what Pepsi does best has just released its “No shaking, Carry Go” campaign, retaining its 50cl PET bottle but dropping the price from N150 to N100. Wow! Just imagine the amount Coca-Cola must have invested in producing the new 35cl PET bottle only for competition to drop price. Feels like a double body blow. I’m sure they could do with a hug right now.
Wherever your loyalty lies, it continues to look like these are interesting times for the CSD consumer. As for me, I’m sitting pretty on the fence, enjoying all the action as it unfolds *Grabs popcorn and contemplates which soft drink to go for*.
Disclaimer: No malice was intended in the writing of this piece. Every information therein is based purely on the writer’s general assumptions.