It's all hands to the pump this week at HHCL & Partners as the
agency prepares for the presentation of its year.
The reason for such heightened activity is well known. HHCL's hold on
Tango's account, arguably its most precious asset, financially and
creatively, is looking shaky. Andrew Marsden, the category director at
Britvic, has issued what some would consider a panicky ultimatum. The
agency has had just two weeks to come up with a relaunch campaign for
the iconic drink.
If HHCL fails to deliver, Marsden has said that the account will be
It is unclear whether HHCL will be among the agencies invited to pitch,
but it appears unlikely given the circumstances. The review will not
include Britvic's Robinsons brand, also handled by HHCL.
That the move has created such a stir is due largely to the impact of
HHCL on Tango's success. It won the account in 1991 after Britvic bought
the brand from what was then Beechams and decided to take on the soft
HHCL's relaunch work thrust the unlikely characters of a cheek-slapping
orange man, a Napoleon lookalike and an exploding granny into the minds
of consumers. It was both lauded and condemned - Campaign's Campaign of
the Year for 1992 and the subject of watchdogs' warnings that
re-enactments could result in perforated eardrums. HHCL eventually
changed the ads so that the orange protagonist kissed his victims
The controversial spots had the double success of propelling Tango into
the premier league of soft drinks and HHCL into the creative
The brand's market share soared to 39 per cent in the non-cola sector in
the months following its launch and year-on-year sales climbed 12 per
cent. Tango became bigger than its three closest rivals; Coca-Cola's
Lilt and Fanta and JN Nichols' Sunkist.
Now, though, it is a different story. The review is as clear a signal as
possible that HHCL will have to ditch its traditional thinking and
strategy if it is to save the account. The late 90s heralded a dip in
the fortunes of the brand, and by 2000 it was worth £88 million, a
dip of 5.5 per cent from the previous year, according to AC Nielsen.
Britvic moved to reverse the decline, launching a new tropical variant,
increasing the focus on its diet spin-offs, developing new packaging and
doubling its £7.8 million marketing spend. However, HHCL's
megaphone work, while once again contentious, failed to bring the
desired results. By August 2001, Tango suffered a further 17 per cent
year-on-year sales slump. Once the market leader, Tango now sits second
to Fanta, which benefitted from a relaunch handled by Soul in the
HHCL is keen to stress the impact of other players in the soft drinks
market on the fortunes of the brand. Coca-Cola has not only revamped
Fanta using a new UK-only roster shop, but has also done the same for
its Dr Pepper brand through relaunch ads by Mother.
Some feel that while Tango challenged the parameters of creative, it has
since failed to move on from there, leaving it vulnerable to any rivals
who got their act together. HHCL's most recent ads focused on "The Tango
inside", a worm-like creature that lives in people's stomachs and only
comes to life to dispense dubious advice when they drink Tango.
There have been other attempts to revive the fortunes of the brand. A
one-off poster created for the European Championship last year parodied
the style of advertisers buying into sponsorship deals with the line
"Officially a drink during Euro 2000" and provided a hint of an
alternative direction for Tango's advertising. A link-up with Cadbury to
launch a combined Tango Crunchie chocolate bar, however, was a far more
transparent bid to boost sales.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi may have been slow to inject fresh creative into
their own brands, but such international players have always been able
to outspend smaller companies such as Britvic. While Britvic decreased
its adspend this year to £6.1 million for Tango, Coca-Cola upped
its spend for its core brand to £15.6 million. At a recent
Coca-Cola conference, one presentation was entitled "Kill Tango".
In the face of growing competition, it seems extraordinary that Britvic
did not act sooner to stem the flood of consumers defecting to other
After three years in the job, the pressure has built on Marsden to
restore the brand to its former glory. Arguably, he's been hampered by a
lack of focus within the company. Britvic has spent much of this year
concentrating on whether it would be sold by Bass, its parent company,
rather than the health of one of its flagship brands.
Now that attention seems firmly focused on marketing strategy, the
question is whether HHCL is fit enough to perform its former magic on
the brand after a bad year of account losses. Some speculate that its
chances are better than they appear, with Britvic simply using its
weight and importance to HHCL to thrash out a better deal. Neither
agency nor client would comment further.