Over the past month, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper/Snapple have each ramped up their marketing efforts to make the citrus cola category – aka lemon-lime carbonated drinks – sexier, more appealing and more accessible to consumers. But whether consumers will follow the leads of celebrities on the road to citrus cola sales remains to be seen.
Although competitors in the $74 billion beverage industry, they are united in one effort: Reverse a trend that has seen consumers abandon soft drinks for energy drinks and bottled water.
Among those employed by the beverage giants in multimedia marketing are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dick Vitale, Erin Andrews, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Cee Lo Green and Lil Wayne.
“Athletes and celebrities help cola companies [and other brands] break through in a deeply cluttered marketplace,” said David Schwab, managing director for First Call, the celebrity acquisition and activation division of global marking firm Octagon, McLean, Va. “Brands hope talent will differentiate the brand from others, create affinity, lead to water cooler conversation and finally trial (drinking the product). Once that happens, the quality of the cola will dictate future sales.”
But will the faces of LeBron, Kobe, Dickie V and Dale Jr. convince consumers to switch from Sprite to Mountain Dew, or vice versa?
“For the loyal fan or consumer, a relationship exists with the team or product that was not forged overnight,” said John Meindl, president & CEO for New York-based marketing and sponsorship firm SportsBrandedMedia, Inc., and Adj. Asst. Professor – Sports Marketing Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University. “If Derek Jeter is traded from the New York Yankees to the Boston Red Sox, would loyal Yankees fan defect? The same remains true for the loyal cola consumer. LeBron and Kobe will have no impact.”
Sales of carbonated drinks, which encompass the biggest category in the beverage market, dropped 1 percent in 2011, and total volume in the category was 9.3 billion 192-ounce cases, the lowest such figures since 1996, according to just-released statistics from industry publication Beverage Digest.
Figures also show that where carbonated drinks are down, sales are up for bottled water, sports drinks and energy drinks. Bottled water accounted for 11 percent of all beverages consumed in 2010, up from 2 percent in 2000, and sports drinks rose from 1.2 percent to 2.3 percent during that period. And if sales of such energy drinks as Red Bull, Monster, 5-Hour Energy, Go Girl and Rockstar.were subtracted from the 2011 sales figures, the volume of carbonated drinks sold would sink another 1.5 percent, according to Beverage Digest.
“The challenge facing brands is not to cannibalize or trade dollars,” said Meindl. “And using current athletes to endorse a so da is questionable at best.”
The volume decline in the carbonated beverage category is the seventh consecutive annual drop, according to Beverage Digest. But where overall volume declined, the citrus carbonated category has seen some signs of life, thanks in part to aggressive marketing and exposure. The only top ten sodas ranked per sales in 2010 to show gains were lemon-limers: Mountain Dew (up .5 percent), Sprite (up 2 percent), and Diet Mountain. Dew (up 5.8 percent).
For 2011, those three brands remained among the top 10 pecking order in soda sales: Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi, Mountain. Dew, Dr Pepper, Sprite, Diet Pepsi, Diet Mountain Dew, Fanta, Diet Dr Pepper.
PepsiCo’s recently unveiled multimedia marketing for its Diet Mountain Dew that features personalities from ESPN (Andrews, Vitale, Greenberg, Golic) and NASCAR (Earnhardt Jr.)
Coke broke advertising for Sprite that heavily leans on NBA stars James and Bryant, who enlist other NBA players in a global effort to find the best street-ballers to participate in an event during 2013 All-Star Game weekend.
Mountain Dew has aligned with hip-hop star Lil Wayne for a new multimillion-dollar campaign, DEWeezy, which was unveiled at the just-concluded South by Southwest in Austin.
Dr Pepper/Snapple puts music stars front and center for 7UP, led by award-winning rapper and NBC’s The Voice coach Cee Lo Green. Like PepsiCo lemon-lime soda Sierra Mist, 7 UP is not among the top ten best-selling sodas based on sales.
According to analysts, the attempt by each brand to differentiate itself can work, but can also backfire.
“It’s interesting to look at the campaign themes for each brand,” said Schwab. “Mountain Dew has a strong media presence with ESPN and is leveraging it with Erin Andrews, Dick Vitale and Mike & Mike. The talent are the voice to the media spend and promotion. Sprite is using the NBA as a global platform to 27 countries for their latest initiative, which is about ‘self-expression.’ 7UP’s Cee Lo campaign is ‘Be Yourself. Be Refreshing.’ Very similar.”
“Mountain Dew has gone away from the young action sports, gamer demo, instead returning to its southern roots with NASCAR and making a bid for mainstream through the use of sports media personalities,” said Meindl. “Both Sprite and 7UP are targeting the urban demo. With similar brand attributes of being fresh, clean, true, etc., they have attached their brands to celebrities in the hope of winning new consumers.”
The efforts come at a time when the two soda giants are reducing employment rosters and other categories while increasing marketing spend. PepsiCo is in the process of cutting 8,700 jobs but boosting marketing by as much as $600 million in 2012.
Coca-Cola plans to turn $650 million in annual cost savings across the board into more effective marketing.
Ultimately, cola companies may entice carbonated citrus sales from casual consumers, but fail to impact the people who are loyal to a brand into changing their buying habits.
“Cola companies need to be in it for the long haul,” said Meindel. “For the loyal consumer, Snow White, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus would have no effect in changing buying habits. Their biggest opportunity lies with the casual consumer – and the ability to win their business. This is where a celebrity endorsement can make a difference.”