CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/TANGO - Troubled Tango issues HHCL rebranding ultimatum. Falling sales and defecting customers forced Britvic to act, Camilla Palmer writes

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

drink sector.

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.

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