SHANGHAI (AdAge.com) -- Coca-Cola Co.'s latest beverage concoction in China taps into the combined popularity of green tea and Sprite, the mainland's No. 1 soft drink. Called Spritea, the tea-flavored carbonated beverage is part of a marketing push to grow the Sprite brand, up 18% in China sales last year, even faster. China is already Sprite's biggest market in the world.
Spritea is currently only sold in mainland China, but "there is certainly interest in Spritea outside China. In many Asian markets both Sprite and green tea are very popular beverages," said Coke's Hong Kong-based spokesman Kenth Kaerhoeg.
Sprite is the leading carbonated soft drink brand in volume share in China, outselling even the flagship Coke brand, and it has wracked up seven consecutive years of double-digit growth in the country. Until now, ads were based on a "Freedom from thirst" platform, with executions showing consumers jumping into pools of water.
"While this may have helped build the business," said Adrey Low, head of account management at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Shanghai, "it didn't really help build the brand. Research shows that there was very little brand love, and consumers found the brand to be dull and uninteresting."
With the launch of Spritea and a new Sprite tagline, "Spark Fresh Thinking," Coca-Cola wants to "enhance the momentum of Sprite" among younger consumers in China and "further drive up brand love," said Andres Kiger, the U.S. beverage giant's senior marketing director, Greater China, based in Shanghai.
BBH won the Sprite creative business in China in a pitch a year ago, and this is the agency's first major work for the brand.
Spritea debuted in Shanghai late last month at an event featuring Sprite spokesperson Jay Chou, a popular Taiwanese musician, singer and actor. Mr. Chou gave an "Avatar"-like 3-D performance on screen and stage, transporting fans into an inspiration-filled wonderland.
He also stars in a new Chinese spot for the Sprite brand, set in a film studio, where a stumped Mr. Chou is trying to write a movie script. Drinking Sprite inspires him with whimsical images such as a wooden ship and a panda bear flying through the air.
"We had a lot of interesting playback from consumers who talked about how drinking Sprite helps clear their heads," Ms. Low said. "That was a piece of interesting insight we leveraged on, this sudden refreshment that Sprite provides does not need to just be at the physical level, it could ladder up to something bigger and more mental."
One of Mr. Chou's Sprite spots will also run outside China, including the U.S. Earlier this year, Sprite introduced a new tagline "The Spark" and started its first global ad campaign.
Coke developed the concept behind Spritea more than a year ago, said Ella Liu, Coke's Shanghai-based Sprite brand director, Greater China. The drink is the first carbonated beverage created by the Coca-Cola Global Innovation and Technology Center, which opened in Shanghai in March 2009.
"We will introduce experiential Spritea sampling stations across China and will provide 15 million free drinks to domestic consumers, the largest new product sampling ever in the Coca-Cola China system," Mr. Kiger said.
Spritea could breathe new life into China's beverage market, which is far less competitive than other North Asian markets, particularly Japan. Ready-to-drink tea consumption in China has increased over 30% annually in recent years. According to Kantar Worldpanel, which measures consumer purchasing and usage insights, ready-to-drink tea outperformed most beverage categories last year.