I remember in 1977 when the Indian government banned Coca-Cola. Not long before, I traded fifteen paise for one of its cool, frosty bottles from the kiosk down the street. At school, we bought it in tablet form, and it tasted just the same. I remember crouching over my glass of water, plunking the tablet in, and peering closely over the rim as the concoction erupted to tickle my face.

Then one day, the law was passed and Coca-Cola was gone.

Soon after, I heard about Thums Up. It was an Indian carbonated soft drink flavored just like Coca-Cola but with a unique and tasty twist that reminded me of betel nut. It featured a bold, red thumbs-up logo with the slogan, “Happy days are here again,” before later changing to, “Taste the Thunder.” The drink exploded in popularity alongside the company’s lime-flavored Limca and orange-flavored Gold Spot beverages. India’s rival cola brands – Campa Cola, Double Seven, Dukes, and McDowells Crush – were no match for the emerging giant.

When the economic reforms of 1991 reopened India’s cola market to international competition, Pepsi rushed to join the playing field. A concentrated tug-of-war between Thums Up and Pepsi followed, each wanting to emerge victorious as India’s preferred carbonated drink. Pepsi sought endorsements from Indian movie stars like Juhi Chawla, while Thums Up increased their sponsorships of major Cricket tournaments. The race closed in, but Thums Up maintained the lead.

Then began a three-way wrestling match as Coca-Cola rejoined the contest, buying out Parle, a smaller Indian cola brand, as its first order of business. It gained another step forward when it switched its bottling from glass to aluminum cans, a novel material to its curious consumers.

Not to be outdone, Thums Up launched what proved to be a breakthrough marketing campaign, positioning itself as a “manly” drink for its strong, powerful taste. The campaign’s slogan, “Grow up to Thums Up” greatly appealed to younger consumers who wished to be seen drinking an “adult” beverage. Many Indians will recall the popular ad of the times depicting a Thums Up man riding through the hot desert, passing all cantinas in search of the bubbly drink. The brand’s market share grew exponentially until Coca-Cola graciously conceded that Thums Up was India’s number one cola. Ultimately, Indians demonstrated that although they enjoy the general cola taste represented in multiple brands, they much preferred its presentation in an Indian bottle.

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