Coca-Cola Co. is rolling into the region a non-carbonated juice-based drink called Qoo (pronounced "coo") using a little blue creature that looks like a cross between Hello Kitty and a Teletubbie. Launched two years ago in Japan, where Coca-Cola claims Qoo is now one of the top-selling drinks in that market, the brand bounced into Korea in April 2001 and into Singapore two months later.
The cartoon Qoo character, whose simple range of activities includes dancing and a single word-"Qoo!"-is featured on product packaging and vending machines and is integral to all advertising, including four TV commercials by M&C Saatchi, the agency for all non-cola brands sold by F&N Coca Cola, Singapore.
In Asia, non-cola drinks are the norm, and in Singapore, where the category is only one-quarter the size of the carbonated-soft-drink market, canned teas and juices account for 100% of Coke's growth.
The character particularly resonates in Singapore, where people stand in line overnight for Hello Kitty collectibles; in fact, within nine weeks of launching in that market, Qoo, sold in orange and pale green grape flavors, rose to the No. 1 juice drink, according to a Coca-Cola spokeswoman. "Qoo has found a gap in the market as the taste for juice drinks increases," says Huw Griffith, managing director of M&C Saatchi, Singapore. "The category has seen a growth rate of 18.2% [in the last year]."
Initial viral marketing of the whimsical Qoo targeted teen-age girls, but Darren Marshall, Coca-Cola's regional marketing director, reckons the brand's potential extends far beyond that demographic. "There are a couple of big trends going through Singapore: health consciousness, and a fascination with anything [from] Japan [so] we decided to capitalize on both of these," he said.
In Singapore, teen opinion leaders and celebrities from local TV and radio were among the first to be given Qoo T-shirts and product samples. Picture messages were sent via mobile phone. As a teaser, a commercial later broadcast on TV was sent out on the Internet before Qoo's consumer launch. The spot shows Qoo sunbathing, then quenching her thirst by drinking a Qoo beverage.
Coca-Cola won't say where Qoo may go next. But a spokeswoman said, "Qoo is a regional brand with international potential."