The Story Of Thums Up: How Indians Came To Taste The Thunder

When Coca-Cola exited India in 1977, it gave local companies a rare opportunity to step in and cement their positions in the cola industry.

More importantly, it allowed for the creation of Thums Up, a fizzy drink that you and I grew up with.

Looking to expand their soft drink portfolio, Ramesh and Prakash Chauhan of Parle Agro decided that the time was right to launch a cola as their flagship drink.

The formula was developed from scratch, and keeping in mind the Indian palate, included familiar ingredients such as cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg.  

The objective was simple: The drink had to be fizzy and taste good, even when it wasn’t served ice-cold.

Back then, one of the biggest challenges of manufacturing a cola drink was sourcing the Kola nut extract which besides being incredibly expensive, had to be imported from Africa.

Ramesh Chauhan decided to tackle this challenge by using tea-extract instead.

After much testing and experimentation, they created a cola with an orange base that was fizzier and stronger than Coca-Cola.
The letter ‘b’ was dropped, and “Thums Up” was born.

Unsurprisingly, its spicy taste was a hit with Indian customers.

Thums Up was initially advertised as a drink for the whole family and chose to go with tag-lines like “Happy days are here again”, associating it with celebrations that brought people together. It was one of the first brands to rope in Indian cricketers to promote a product.

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Thums Up enjoyed a near monopoly of the market until the arrival of Pepsi 1991.
To counter the newfound competition, the brand introduced “MahaCola”, a larger 300 ml bottle.

Then in 1993 Coca-Cola re-entered India, triggering a short cola war until they acquired several brands in the Parle portfolio for a reported $40 million. Thums Up was one of them.

Though it had an 85% market share when sold, the brand began losing popularity after Coca-Cola cutback on advertising to drive customers to their flagship brand.

But they once they realized that withdrawing Thums Up from the market meant that customers turned to Pepsi, they wisely decided to relaunch the brand as its rival instead.

To help the brand transition into something more “masculine”, Ramesh Chauhan partnered with Ashok Kurien of Ambience Advertising.

When coming up with strategies to reposition Thums Up, Kurien visualized the mind of a typical 18-year-old Indian male.

Back then, the competition was intense and jobs were few, and insecurity was a common feeling among the target cola-consuming audience.

The “Grow up to Thums Up” ad campaign was the first to draw on its strong taste and positioned Thums Up as an “adult” drink that young consumers no doubt found appealing.

Encouraged by the positive response, Kurien then decided to focus on their struggle and success and associate it with “tasting the thunder.”

Confused?
So was his team.

First of all, they were trying to sell a cola. Second, how could somebody taste a sound?

Ashok Kurien then explained that success comes with a roar of applause that sounds like thunder. Since “tasting victory” was a common figure of speech, he simply replaced victory with thunder.

They produced a series of ads showing young men performing bold stunts and rewarding themselves with Thums Up when they emerged victorious, suggesting that the drink was only for “macho” people who dared to take risks.

Salman Khan, a decidedly “male” youth icon at the time, was brought on board as the new face of Thums Up.

Coincidently, “Thunder” also had a strong phonetic resemblance to “Thanda”, the Hindi word for cold; and the colloquial term in India for cold drinks.

The association was perfect, and the campaign was a roaring success.

By the time we were all growing up, Thums Up had become a cult in India, a permanent fixture in our fridges and an inseparable companion to another desi favourite – a bottle of Old Monk.

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Amanda Francesca Mendonça

After spending pretty much all of my teen years waiting for a Hogwarts letter that never came, I gave up and settled for being a wizard with words instead. A hopeless romantic, when I’m not penning down short stories, I’m busy imagining my own happily ever after.

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