Cola wars are back: Pepsi cranks up World Cup ad game with 87-yr-old fan

87-year-old Charulata Patel
Opportunism is the name of the game as PepsiCo seizes a moment of fandom on the cricket field that took social media by storm, to up the ante on its #HarGhoontMeinSwag campaign. This, even as rival Coca-Cola sticks to the formula, with actors Ranbir Kapoor and Paresh Rawal leading its campaign as official sponsor of the ongoing ICC World Cup. 

The cola wars are back, repackaged for the modern consumer with videos on TikTok and snappy one-liners on Twitter. Only this time around, Pepsi is talking up the age-defying spirit of the game, steering clear of youth-centric promotions that have been the norm in the past. This is moment marketing at work, where the brand rides on social media buzz and the product takes a backseat, say experts.

A PepsiCo spokesperson said that the 87-year-old Charulata Patel swinging to the rhythm of the game, embodies the spirit of the brand. But as Harish Bijoor, brand consultant and founder Harish Bijoor Consults points out, there is more to the campaign than Pepsi just cashing in on a face and a moment. “This sure is an ambush moment on Coke!” Pepsi is looking to upstage rival Coca-Cola, the official sponsor of the World Cup, and rain on its parade, just as it did in 1996. (Interestingly the Pepsi campaign Nothing official about it in 1996 led the ICC to come up with stringent rules about ambush marketing for the World Cup)

Sandeep Goyal, founder Mogae Media and brand consultant says that Coke is already complaining. “As ICC official partner they obviously think that any coverage of the old lady on ICC cameras ambushes them since Pepsi is promoting her ‘swag’. It is all tactical play. But Pepsi seems to have got the better of Coke one more time,” he said.

Experts say the Pepsi campaign reflects a new reality for cola brands where the product, increasingly seen as an unhealthy beverage, does not feature prominently in the narrative. The emphasis is more on the fun and swag element that these brands would like to invoke and offer to their consumers. 

In the midst of the cola wars, Patel has emerged a star. Her painted cheeks and yellow vuvuzela becoming the stuff of memes and viral posts. Her life story is also now a part of conversation threads criss-crossing the web, an indication of just how swiftly social media can thrust stardom upon its denizens. Patel, to the thousands seeking her sound byte, has said, “I am not born in India. But my parents are from India and I like the country. For 20 years, since I retired, I have been watching cricket.” 

PepsiCo India spokesperson told Business Standard earlier that the #HarGhoontMeinSwag campaign is all about living in the moment. Patel ticked all the boxes and the company has released a 10 second video and a one-minute fan anthem (Har Fan Mein Swag) with her.

“The brand can use digital to good advantage for such a quick campaign. With TikTok in particular, going viral in the real hinterland of the Indian market is a big possibility,” Bijoor said. Goyal believes Pepsi needs to be complimented for quick reflexes and an ability to conceive and convert a good creative thought in such a short window of time. He sees more and more brands going down the route that once used to be called topical advertising. “Amul turned that into a fine art. But now many more brands are jumping onto the bandwagon trying to ‘pass off’ a connection to either the celebrity or the occasion. Sometimes it is genuine; most times it is just skimming goodwill off the famous face,” he adds. 

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