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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

How Coca-Cola bungled 50cl Glass launch

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By Solomon Itegboje

I was driving on Eko Bridge in Lagos (Nigeria) at about 4:p.m. on that day when I first heard it. A 5” ad, I think on Cool FM.

“Pepsi 50cl, only 10 Naira and you can drink it all”.
It was our competitor’s response Ad to our launch of Coca-Cola 50cl in Returnable Glass with a Screw Cap”.
Barely 24 hours earlier we had launched. They probably knew about the launch. In less than 24 hours, they had responded with a short and profoundly effective ad. That simple Ad ruined the rest of my evening because it hit me in my guts and immediately laid bare all that was wrong with our New Product. Our Pack was wrong. Our Price was wrong. Our selling proposition was infantile.
Our Launch was, in itself, a response to their own earlier launch of a Cola in 50cl Returnable Glass.
We knew when they were planning their launch. We were nonplussed. We had time to plan a counter. We didn’t. Thinking back, now, I can say it was hubris. We thought we had superior knowledge. We almost disdained their decision to do it. Everything we knew, and our experience told us that 50cl Cola in returnable Glass was an aberration, destined to fail.
To the best of my knowledge (at that time), that pack had never been offered anywhere else. “Who will drink 50cl of a Cola drink at a go? What will consumers do with what they can’t finish?” we sneered. This was our first mistake.
Then they launched. We could track their sales. Sales was going beyond their expectations. They were quickly expanding availability of the pack to more territories. We began to haemorrhage Market Share.
We knew we had to respond, QUICKLY!. Then we made our 2nd mistake.
Whose idea it was I don’t remember. Nobody will claim the ‘rights’ now, even though we all revelled in it at that time as a “killer punch” against our competitor’s offering.
Looking back now, it was a hare-brained idea. The ‘bright idea’ was to launch a Coca-Cola 50cl in Returnable Glass with a “resealable cap”.
This would differentiate our offering in a superior way. Consumers would not need to finish their 50cl drink at a go. They can defer or ‘continue’ their consumption. In simple terms, when you bought competition’s, you had to finish or waste it. When you bought ours, you could defer or continue the consumption.
The 50cl Returnable Glass with Screw Cap debacle could easily happen anywhere… even with the best practitioners.
It happens when competition hits you so bad, that you need to respond very quickly and/or you begin to frame your response with the competitor’s lenses and not consumer insights. It also happens when the idea sounds so good (especially when it comes from a respected boss) that it is adopted without subjecting it to first principles scrutiny.
All of us who were part of making and implementing that decision were respected practitioners and, at that time, would have sworn that our response was very well reasoned and thought through.
In reality, our response was knee-jerk. If we had gone through the process from first principles, we would have known that we were launching a product that nobody would want, In Coca-Cola, we had a simple framework for making new product decisions mnemoniced as OBPPC.
Identify the right Consumer ‘O’ccasion (need), determine the right ‘B’rand, then the correct ‘P’ack, and the appropriate ‘P’rice and made available in the right ‘C’hannel where the consumer would find the product. If we had applied this with a clear head, we would never have launched that pack.
• 50cl in Returnable Glass with a screw cap pack did not fit any meaningful consumer occasion. We were trying to use one pack to address two different consumers and drinking occasions. The outcome fit neither.
As we later identified, the user who wanted 50cl in returnable glass, didn’t care about the screw cap. Those who wanted to ‘continue’ consumption didn’t care about returnable glass.
• Competitive offering’ was priced at N10. Ours was supposedly at N12. But the dynamics of Retail Pricing in Nigeria automatically meant that ours was going to be retailed at N15. This alone was in itself a death knell.
• Our Channel Strategy was very off. This will always be the case if the consumption occasion is not well defined.
Beyond this, there were other reasons why we should have been more circumspect. We already had an extrinsic advantage over competition, why was our response straining for an intrinsic advantage? The resealable cap added costs, made production more difficult and potentially affected the quality of the product.
We were first hoodwinked by the hubris that we knew better, then blinded by the need to quickly respond and then imagined the consumer in ourselves rather than taking time to know what each consumer really wanted.
It was one of our worst product launches. Inevitably, the package failed woefully.

We licked our wounds, counted our losses and learnt our lessons. We went back to the basics and came back. We came back right, strong and impactful. I hope to address how we did this in a subsequent article.

  • Itegboge is a former Coca Cola marketing director
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