Once popular soft drink brand Campa Cola is set to return to the Indian market after almost three decades and despite having to compete with entrenched cola brands, Bang in the Middle’s Naresh Gupta says Campa’s heritage provides it with a unique opportunity.

There are some brands that evoke a strong sense of nostalgia and linked to that nostalgia is a sense of pride. Campa Cola is one such brand.

Coca-Cola’s exit from India, thanks to the government’s investment policy over 40 years ago, saw a host of home-grown brands come into being. Thums Up, Gold Spot and Limca were one bunch, while Campa Cola, Campa Orange and Campa Lemon were the other. Of these today, one is a powerful brand and the rest are memories.

Now Reliance, a made-in-India retailer, has started to revive Campa Cola. But is that so easy?

Does nostalgia work?

Nostalgia is a strange feeling. It creates a sense of belonging, evokes a warm fuzzy emotion and even brings a smile to your face. Sometimes, it even drives you to pick the brand from shelves. Nostalgia is far more complex than a mere memory.

Campa Cola as a brand was born when India was trying to take pride in itself. That generation of Indians who looked up to the West and took pride in everything Western was now forced to make a choice and start consuming brands that were Indian. To Campa’s credit, it copied the western cola brands to the hilt and created imagery that was straight off the books of cola majors. It had a vibe, it had celebrities and a great soundtrack. The brand did take off and, at least in North India, became a popular brand.

As nostalgia goes, what will this generation remember Campa Cola as? A brand that conquered the new feeling of resurgent India or a brand that was a shooting star and faded away as they preferred to be seen with Thums Up and not Campa?

The bigger issue is that the early adopters of Campa are now the generation that has given up on soda and sugar and moved on to categories that are less sweet. Will this generation be excited about the return of an old and forgotten brand?

Indian consumers have not been very complimentary towards old brands that have tried to revive themselves and past glory has never been the reason to follow a brand. Maybe the country has transformed so dramatically that brands which remind us of our past evoke nothing more than a chuckle and a smile. Campa’s heritage will not give it a discernible advantage.

The opportunity

India is an opportunity for almost any category and soft Drinks is one of them.

A study by Varun Beverages (a bottling partner for Pepsi) suggests that India’s per capita soft drink consumption was 44 bottles in 2016 and is expected to double this year. Even at 100 bottles per capita, we are way below China, Mexico, Brazil and similar developing countries. This gives soft drinks a massive opportunity.

The soft drinks business is complex and dependent on three things – distribution, partnership and logistics. All three play a key role in ensuring that no occasion of impulse is ever left unexploited. Cola brands have leveraged this strength and together with an aggressive consumer awareness-building exercise, they have been doing robust business in India.

Campa going for glory

There are three factors that I believe will make Campa Cola successful. These are not driven by changing demographics or lifestyle; they are well-known factors.

  • The growth of infrastructure. The expansion of roads and the growth of electrification are new factors that have never been considered before. The expanding road network is opening up new distribution points and linking more and more consumer centres. The expansion of electricity distribution makes the creation of cold chains much easier than before. Three categories have leveraged this opportunity: instant noodles, potato wafers and bottled water. At the most remote corners of India, finding all three is now a reality. If there is a cold drink brand that can ride this expansion, then it’s Campa Cola. This is a massive consumer connection opportunity.
  • The lack of strong connection with brands in the category. There was a time when consumers looked at cola brand advertising and talked about it. Slogans like “Right Choice” (Pepsi) and “Food, friends and Thums Up” are gone and consumers now look at cola ads and move on. The entire media consumption of the younger generation has changed. Campa has no baggage from the past and it can become the brand that questions everything that has been created until now by the category and reinvents it. Up to yesterday, soda brands were TV first; they had to come across as big and set the tone for pop culture. Campa will need to change this behaviour and the consumers will lap it up.
  • Retro is modern today. The young consumer is actively seeking things that used to be old, not because they are old but because they make a statement. There is this strange marriage of old and modern that they create and give acceptance to that otherwise would never have been possible. We are seeing that happen in fashion and in personal styling, with music and lifestyle choices, where consumers are blending old with new. There is no soft drink brand that has the ability to do this and I don’t mean it as retro appeal that has been created by one brand – I mean it as a brand that has roots in the past but with a new take.

Campa was born at a time when India was forced to look inwards and is coming back at a time when India wants to stand as the leader of the world. There has never been an opportunity that a brand like Campa will ever get, especially when it is backed by a company that stands for those exact values.