Prabhal Saha, a nine-year-old boy from Calcutta, West Bengal, was choked when he tried copying a model who bungee-jumped off a cliff to grab a Thums Up bottle from a passing truck. A rope tied around Saha's stomach and attached to the ceiling fan in his home slid to his neck after he jumped off a high chair. He died Sunday, two days after the attempt.
"We have immediately withdrawn the airing of the commercial from all television networks," says a Coca-Cola India spokesman in Bombay. "We reiterate that the advertisement was an illustration of an adventure sport and was never intended to influence any person or child to imitate."
The unlucky 45-second spot was being aired on Doordarshan, the state-owned national broadcaster. The commercial, just a month old in April 1996, induced another six-year-old boy from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, to jump off his apartment building. Death was instantaneous.
Stunned by the action and resultant adverse publicity, the U.S. beverage marketer decided to temporarily mothball the commercial. When it was revived a few months later, audio and visual warnings in English were added at the end of the spot.
Even Coca-Cola is puzzled by the circumstances the second time round, the spokesman says. Saha apparently was repeatedly chided by his parents for trying to bungee-jump in his home. His parents were away on his last attempt.
Thums Up is India's second largest selling cola next to Pepsi, though the Coca-Cola Co. is the overall soft drinks leader with an estimated 61% market share. The company spokesman says Coca-Cola won't try its luck the third time and will shelve the jinxed commercial.
Copyright July 1997, Crain Communications Inc.