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A tweet & Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: The story of Parle Rol.a.Cola’s comeback

Products may be pulled off the shelf, but brands never die. A case in point is Parle Products bringing back its iconic brand – Rol.a.Cola. In perhaps the first ever instance in the history of marketing, a product has been relaunched based on consumer appeal.

Rol.a.Cola, the hard-boiled candy with the Cola flavour in a rolled format, was discontinued by Parle in 2006. 13 years hence in February 2019, a Twitter user from Kerala, Sai Ganesh, requested Parle to bring back his favourite cola candy and asked, ‘How many RTs to bring Rol.a.Cola back’? Following this, Parle Products sought 10,000 retweets to bring back Rol.a.Cola. In response, a consumer driven #BringRolaColaBack campaign went viral and secured more than 711k impressions on Twitter.

Soon, Parle Products initiated the #RolaColaIsComingBack campaign to assure the consumers that their wish was granted. This is the first time in India that a product was making a comeback because of a digital movement run completely organically by users. Parle claims that the entire campaign on social media garnered 5 million digital footprints.

When asked why Parle had decided to discontinue with Rol.a.Cola despite its popularity, Krishnarao S Buddha, Senior Category Head - Marketing, Parle Products, told Adgully, “Parle came to that decision after a brand rationalisation in 2006. We felt there were other brands comprising biscuits, confectionary and snacks which would bring better growth for the company.”

Though taken off the shelves in India, Rol.a.Cola continued to be available in international markets, especially in African countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, and the Middle East markets like Saudi, Dubai, Muscat and Sharjah.

Tracing the brand’s origin in India, Rol.a.Cola was launched in the 90s when Coca Cola had just re-entered the market. At that time, most Indians found the cola beverage then priced at Rs 10 to be a little steep. Thus, Parle Products saw an opportunity to fill the need gap in the form of a Cola flavoured candy.

People found an ingenious way of consuming Rol.a.Cola, as Buddha recalled, “Some consumers used to melt this candy in water, put it in the fridge and consume it as a Cola drink!”

Speaking about the decision to relaunch Rol.a.Cola, Buddha commented, “While a tweet created a disruption in the market for a comeback of the iconic Rol.a.Cola candy, we connected with the emotions to honour consumers demand. Earlier, consumers had no platform in which they could voice their opinions and concerns. Now, they can simply reach out to a brand they like and let them know what they think. Today, each user is an influencer, who played an essential role in our marketing efforts. The love received by people led us to accelerate the manufacturing of the candy and we are extremely thrilled to give back the Rol.a.Cola to our consumers.”

Keeping that in mind, Parle Products has kept most aspects of the brand intact, but have refreshed the packaging to give it a more vibrant look. While earlier Rol.a.Cola was priced at Rs 2, in its new avatar the brand is available in two pack sizes priced at Rs 5 and Rs 20.

The marketing strategy

Obviously the marketing strategy has changed. Back in the day, confectionary goods practically sold themselves via a good distribution strategy. For Rol.a.Cola’s relaunch, Parle Products began distribution in mid-September, starting from the South markets, then moving on to the North and East markets and finally the West markets, which is closest to their production facility which is based in Indore.

Buddha explained, “Typically, we start distribution from the farthest markets. In September, we sold about 25-30 tons of the product in the market. We didn’t even get a full month of sales.”

When asked about how strong a role had the nostalgia factor played in the brand’s revival, Buddha was somewhat sceptical about the power of nostalgia. He pointed out that the snowball effect on social media made something like 10,000 retweets an easy task for the consumer. However, when Parle Products reached out to the people who retweeted with 4 rolls of the product as a gesture of gratitude, only 700 people responded with the complete information.

“If a 25-30-year-old is aware about Rol.a.Cola, what is the likelihood of that person going out and purchasing the product? I think the likelihood is very less, so reaching out to such a TG is not going to be sustainable,” Rao conjectured.

Hence, Parle Products has decided to target the 13 and above audience. The company is leveraging digital platforms to rebuild the brand as that is where people were engaging with the brand. They have roped in Delhi-based creative agency, Please See, to handle communications for the brand.

“From a communications standpoint, Rol.a.Cola is still talking about solid Cola, because the core of the brand has not changed and we will re-emphasise our proposition of Cola in a candy,” Buddha affirmed.

Digital will be the only channel of communication, since most of the audience that recalled the brand are on digital. However, Buddha is keen to know how many of them will actually buy the product. For this, Parle has created a narrative that showcases how Rol.a.Colawent went on an international tour. “We were inspired by the transformation scene in the movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, where Milkha Singh transforms into the ‘Flying Sikh’ personality. Likewise, we have shown the transformation of the old Rol.a.Cola into the new Rol.a.Cola and arriving in the country,” Buddha explained.

The digital engagement for the brand is currently being driven by social platforms – predominantly Twitter, followed by Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. Buddha informed that they will be looking for brand integrations in web series or release digital films across OTT platforms like Hotstar, Voot, SonyLIV, ZEE5. He is not crossing out content partnerships with content platforms such as ScoopWhoop and collaboration with web influencers.

Business basics

The confectionary space in India is a highly competitive category, growing at around 16 per cent YoY and seeing stiff competition from players such as Mondelez, Mars Wrigley, and Perfetti Van Melle.

Buddha is confident that despite the headwinds, Rol.a.Cola will contribute 10 per cent to the overall confectionary business for Parle Products. Parle Product’s confectionary portfolio consists of brands like Kaccha Mango Bite, Melody, Poppins, Kismi, Mango Bite, Orange Bite, 2 in 1 Eclairs, Cafechino, Friberg Rang, Mazelo, and Londonderry.

Poppins which is the closest cousin to Rol.a.Cola, is very popular in the South markets. The company has done almost no communication for Poppins in a long time, however, they do print advertising from time to time to rejig the memory of the consumers.

It’s the same in the international markets, where Parle Product’s marketing strategy is more of a shared distribution game. “We have gained loyal consumers in those markets. In India, we need to be active throughout, because if you are out of sight, you are out of mind. You have to keep creating content for the brand on a regular basis,” Buddha concluded.

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