For the many regulars at downtown Atlanta’s world of Coca-Cola center, the highly jagged pesticide controversy over the locally based, globally-renowned soft drink major was a strange story. Until now that is.
Thanks to the mighty presence of coke especially in this part of US and its reach in almost all parts of the world, the fact of Coca-Cola being loaded with dangerously high amounts of pesticides in a country whose presence here is ponderous if not overwhelming, is a developing news byte that has piqued even the casual reader.
So much so that recently a leading daily carried a report on how Coke was salvaged by aggressive celebrity endorsement in India.
Enter Aamir Khan, an actor with as much mass appeal as niche repute.
Known for being acutely selective about his roles, his films and his productions, Khan is also someone who enjoys a tremendous fan-base, both in India and amongst Indians abroad.
It was therefore, a no-brainer to see him redeem the goliath brand’s image when he appeared in a television commercial not so long ago, endorsing, seriously, Coke’s toted security standards.
Being an actor above the socially responsible do-gooder citizen, his was a testimonial that the company’s stakeholders would have considered infallible. They may have been right.
A controversy that reared its head nearly three years ago when a neutral research group (Center for Science and Environment, an independent public interest group) alleged that soft drinks manufactured by Coke and Pepsi contained harmful pesticide residue, the soft drink drama had consumers either disowning aerated drinks completely or consuming them grudgingly.
The unaffected few, in any case, believed that companies as big as Coke and PepsiCo would take corrective action at the earliest and resolve the aberration if in fact, it was true.
Contrarily, demonstrations against the soft drinks major may have been a mere whimper to begin with; they did not fail to leave their mark.
Reportedly sales plummeted and the brand image of coke took a beating. In Kerala, coke was banned.
Instead of being the friendly neighborhood (chai ki dukaan and dhaba) offering that at one point became more affordable than locally brewed coolers, Coke was being viewed as the ‘firangi’ usurper that trifled with a formidable consumer base and did nothing to appease it.
Coke’s nearly invisible strategy of denial in the early days garnered a response that was, at best, measured.
It’s slightly more aggressive tactic of conducting tests and showing results comparable to European standards too, had hardly any takers, for consumers considered it mere technical mumbo-jumbo.
Little did one know that a couple of minutes worth ad-spot would do the trick. While celebrity endorsement has been a dream solution for advertisers, especially in India where zealous fans are held captive by very few ‘heroes’; Aamir Khan’s engrafting, as it were, into the coke ‘situation’ has become the stuff that newsreels are oft times made of- advocacy.
In a significantly emerging, dominant market, Coke’s strategy to have Khan defend it and go the extra bit by gulping a bottle of the beverage fearlessly on TV, posters and kiosks seems to have paid off in more ways than one.
We knew about the downslide in the company’s sales after the December 2004 Supreme Court ruling that necessitated warning labels on Coke and Pepsi products. Equally, we are all privy to the fact that Coke’s sales registered an increase after a long time during the third quarter this year.
Bringing Aamir Khan into the picture through target marketing, Coke has adopted a surer, more successful strategy.
Recent reports have pointed at Hrithik Roshan being the next one wielding the coke machine. And so, what one star stated, another will second.
This is imperative for Coke at a time when response to aerated drinks in the US economy is a growing downer and acceptance of such beverages in world markets, an unavoidable necessity.
But for those of us who are neither paid nor profited, this does take the fizz out, a little.