Part 6: Thums Up Story: The legendary Indian Cola brand is born

Previously, we had seen how Campa Cola tried to fill the void left by Coca Cola by launching an imitation:

While rest of the franchises of Coca Cola were bombarding the market with their own cola variants which were similar to Coca Cola taste (but most of them failed miserably), Parle was still in “observation” mode because it had already burnt its fingers few years ago with a cola brand called Gluco Cola.

More about Gluco Cola:

Parle already had more than 50 franchises across India bottling their Gold Spot & Limca and it was just a matter of incremental effort to introduce a cola drink which could in turn become a pan-India cola drink. All that it had to do was to develop a concentrate formula and it had to be right in the first attempt of the launch. Hence, it was logical for Parle to remain alert, observe the market and then channelize its entire efforts on the formula.

Ramesh Chauhan

Ramesh Chauhan

Ramesh Chauhan, leading the Parle soft drink company and the brain behind Gold Spot & Limca brand, dedicated himself for this challenging task from the scratch. One of the most expensive ingredients in cola drink back in the 1970s was the “Kola nut extract”. Apart from the cost factor, the other challenge it imposed was that it had to be imported from Africa. Back in those days, importing anything would be a herculean task due to the foreign exchange problem, and moreover, would add up to unnecessary delays, affecting production & logistics. Hence, Ramesh Chauhan insisted upon using an alternative like tea extract which was readily available in India but it was a risky proposition which the team took up as a challenge.
Since Indians were accustomed to spices, Ramesh wanted this new drink to be spicy and the team experimented with ingredients like cinnamon, cardamom, lemon oil, nutmeg, vanilla and orange oil. Another point to be considered was that the drink had to be fizzy even if slightly cool (if not ice-cold) so that vendors could carry it in large utensils filled with ice and sell them at busy intersections, beaches & tourist places. 

Incorporating all these guidelines were indeed challenging, not only for their research team but also for the tasters because they had to shoulder the responsibility of certifying the taste. Almost everyday, Ramesh & his team would have tasting sessions, and based on the feedback from these tasting sessions, the research team would go back to their labs and modify it further. Finally, they had a cola drink which was unique, Indian in taste (spicy), less sweeter and more fizzier than Coca Coca.

Now that the concentrate formula was developed, the next task was to come up with a name for the cola drink. This turned out to be more challenging because there was never a consensus. After turning down several suggestions, the name “Thumbs Up” was chosen, but that also had many objections as some referred to it as “Thinga” (a word for teasing) and some related it to “Up yours” (a derogatory phrase). Also, back in 1970s, it was still not a popular gesture/symbol in India because not many were aware that it signified “winning”. (That gesture was usually related with “asking or questioning” and when gestured horizontally, it meant asking for a “lift” to a passing vehicle). However, Ramesh Chauhan finalized “Thumbs Up” because of his instincts. ¬†Just before registering the brand name, the lawyers suggested the company to drop the letter ‘b’ to avoid making it sound like a generic word, and thus, it was shortened to “Thums Up” and the legendary cola brand was born with a simple, bright red logo.
A budget of Rs 20 lakh (which was huge amount those days) was set aside for marketing the new cola drink brand. Since the emergency had been revoked, democracy had won, and the general mood of the nation was that of “happiness”, the company chose to go with tag-lines like “Happy days are here again”, associating it with food & festivities for the advertising. Contrary to the popular belief, Thums Up was initially not advertised as a macho drink but was more of a jolly drink for youngsters and families alike.
thums_up_happy_days_adIt was a tense moment for the Thums Up team for the initial few days after launch because never before had anybody offered such a unique cola drink. It was unique because it had used tea extract instead of kola nut extract and used several spices to make it more “Indian”. Surprisingly, its pungent taste went down well with customers all over the nation and the brand turned into an instant success!! Even those who were obsessed with Coca Cola, despite some initial criticism due to the strong taste, soon accepted & appreciated it.

By 1978, Thums Up had truly filled the void left by Coca Cola and in many ways considered more “Swadeshi” than the Govt’s Double Seven Cola because Thums Up was not just made in India but tasted like India (spicy, pungent & extra fizz which Indian adored).

We shall find out about the evolution of Thums Up and the competition in the soft drink industry in the next part tomorrow.

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