Sprite Launches 'The Spark,' Its First Global Ad Campaign

Four Years After Its Last Major Push in the U.S., Coke Brand Repackages, Loses 'Obey Your Thirst' Slogan

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Sprite might be one of Coca-Cola's billion-dollar brands, but that doesn't mean it's gotten much love in the last few years. It's been almost four years since the brand has had a major advertising campaign in the U.S., and 16 years since the brand updated its tagline.

"Sprite was a strong growth brand for Coke throughout the '80s and '90s, and then it didn't get the attention it deserved in recent years," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, noting that Coca-Cola has been focused on things such as the launch of Coke Zero and the acquisition of Glaceau to the detriment of Sprite. "Even a big company like Coke can only focus on a limited number of things."

That's about to change, and it's just in time. Though the brand saw strong growth in the U.S. through the 1990s, going from 260 million cases in 1985 to 670 million cases in 1999, according to Beverage Digest, a series of ho-hum advertising campaigns and new Coke launches have diverted attention from the lemon-lime soda. By 2008, Sprite's volume had fallen to 537 million cases. Volume fell 3% in 2008 and 4% in the first nine months of 2009.

In a bid to boost the brand, Sprite is betting on its first global campaign. The push carries the tagline "The Spark," replacing the long-running "Obey Your Thirst" tag in the U.S. and some international markets. The campaign also introduces the brand's first global packaging design. In the U.S. and select global markets, the new logo replaces the stylized "S" icon that resembled the yellow-and-green yin-yang symbol and was introduced in 2006. The new packaging rolled out in the U.S. last spring and is now rolling out globally. Turner Duckworth, a San Francisco-based agency, worked on the logo.

"'Obey Your Thirst' -- we have not moved away from that proposition. We have executed that same campaign across time," said Santiago Blanco, senior VP-Sprite and flavors in North America. "What's relevant about this campaign is we're moving into a different proposition. ... Today there is a new generation of teenagers, so we also need to change."

Music, Film
The campaign will include eight spots, running in cinema and on TV and will have out-of-home, mobile and a robust digital component. There will be two stages to the push, the first focused on music and the second, launching in April, focused on film. Grammy nominee Drake is featured in the first spot, "Unleashed," which shows the hip-hop star struggling to find inspiration until he guzzles a Sprite.

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the spots.
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the spots.
Jay Chou, a Chinese singer-songwriter, video director Rik Cordero and an Indian actor will appear in subsequent spots. An online and mobile music mixer with content from Drake and an online digital film mixer are meant to appeal to Sprite's teen target. The "Spark" campaign will also have sport and dance tie-ins, through the brand's Sprite Slam Dunk contest, part of the NBA All-Star event, and Sprite Step Off, a collegiate stepping competition.

In the last two years, Coca-Cola has sought to create campaigns with global appeal in an effort to unify its messaging across markets. "The Spark" will run across Europe, North America, Africa and Asia. It also marks the first creative from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which won the account early last year. Shay Drohan, senior VP-global sparkling brands, said there were several factors at work in that win. First, BBH's pitch began with digital. "It's not often that you have agencies come in and the first thing they present is digital and the last thing they present is TV," he said. "TV was the icing on the cake."

Mr. Drohan said that approach made it clear that Bartle Bogle understood Sprite's teen target. The agency also had plenty of global expertise to offer the brand. While the account is led out of New York, Mr. Drohan said some of the most interesting ideas have come out of the Mumbai, Shanghai and London offices, in addition to New York.

Coca-Cola execs challenge the notion that Sprite has been lacking for attention, pointing to the fact that, globally, the brand surpassed 2 billion cases for the first time last year. It's only the third Coca-Cola trademark to reach that milestone. "Sprite is growing around the world. We are consistently supporting it globally," said Mr. Drohan, noting that Sprite is a "huge" brand in China and developing quickly in India.

Declining spending
Added Mr. Blanco: "Our investment levels have been up, communications and sponsored campaigns have been up." According to Ad Age's Leading National Advertisers report, Sprite spent $27.1 million on measured media in 2006, compared to $12.5 million in 2007 and $16.3 million in 2008.

Though Sprite handily outsells it, in the U.S. PepsiCo's Sierra Mist has gained ground. That brand launched in 2000 and sold about 14 million cases that year, according to Beverage Digest. In 2008, the brand reached 140 million cases.

7Up, on the other hand, has struggled in recent years. Owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the brand sold 219 million cases in 1995, compared to 96 million cases in 2008. Part of the drop off can be attributed to the fact that 7Up was largely distributed by Pepsi bottlers who replaced it with Sierra Mist, said Mr. Sicher.

Bartle Bogle's freshman effort for the brand will be up against a long history of major campaigns from major agencies, some of which have proven more successful than others. In 1994, Lowe & Partners introduced "Obey Your Thirst," replacing "I like the Sprite in you," and catapulting the brand into the consciousness of American teens. In 2001, Sprite moved its business to WPP's Ogilvy & Mather, which asked "What's Your Thirst?" and worked with Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. In 2004, the agency introduced Miles Thirst, an African-American poet/philosopher action figure, who appeared in spots alongside Mr. James.

A year later, the business was handed to Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Crispin attempted to inject new life into the brand in 2006 with "SubLYMONal," a dreamlike series of ads and tie-ins with the ABC hit "Lost."

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