INTERNATIONAL: THE WORLD’S TOP CLIENTS; Losers’ advertising strategy wins for Solo

Solo, a Norwegian soft drink, is appealing to cynical youth with darker ads, Margaret Olley says

Solo, a Norwegian soft drink, is appealing to cynical youth with darker

ads, Margaret Olley says

The unattractive, the unhappy and the untalented all star in a

distinctive brand of advertising developed by the Norwegian soft drink

company, Solo. It is advertising which, by always featuring failures,

has attracted top honours in advertising awards and has achieved

phenomenal cut-through in its home market.

A cyclist pedalling like crazy is overtaken by other cyclists -

including a little old lady - even after a swig of Solo. An opera singer

still sings badly after a sip of the orange nectar. An unhappy

wallflower at a dance remains on her own, despite knocking back the


Solo’s marketing manager, Jonn arne Horpen, says some people initially

thought the company and its agency, JBR McCann, were mad not to use the

traditional advertising construct - you take a drink and something

amazing happens.

But since the campaign was launched in January 1993, Solo has proved its

critics wrong by lifting its market share of Norway’s soft drink market

and winning over ten advertising industry awards.

‘Some people thought it would be a commercial disaster. They called it

losers’ advertising,’ Horpen says.

‘Others thought it was pure genius. It created a debate in the media

about this kind of honesty in advertising.’

The debate calmed down once the ads were shown to have increased sales

in Norway, the only place where Solo is sold.

The campaign, taking advantage of young people’s cynicism towards

advertising, was put together in 1992 when Solo, after several years of

falling market share, took on JBR McCann to manage its account,

replacing Backer Spielvogel Bates.

‘Our market share had fallen to 9 per cent of the total drinks market,’

Horpen says. ‘We had not managed to differentiate from our rivals and

were using the same kind of marketing as Coca-Cola and Pepsi.’

The creative director and copywriter on the account, Frode Karlberg,

believed something completely different was needed to put some energy

back into the drink that had been made in Norway since 1934.

‘Solo had been following the same paths as others with an international

lifestyle approach including all the traditional ingredients - youth,

music, fun and style - just like any other international soft drink

manufacturer,’ Karlberg says.

‘The sales proved something, and something serious, had to be done. They

were, if not desperate, rather worried. It was not just a question of

adjusting strategies. We had to do something totally new.’

Karlberg explains that the agency and the company decided to give the

15- to 25-year-old target market the truth.

‘The fact is that the youth audience, at least in Norway, has long ago

seen through the traditional advertising of youth products. They don’t

believe it. They know no product can make you happier, prettier or more

popular,’ Karlberg says.

‘We thought our only hope to make the brand stand out was to tell the

truth. Market share is now up to 10 per cent.’

As a precursor to the campaign, Solo ran a poster campaign rather like a

declaration telling people what it was going to do.

The poster, depicting a rather gloomy looking youth, told people that

soft drinks cannot bring happiness.

‘We told people that, from that point on, we promised never to speak

like that again but to tell the truth,’ Karlberg says. ‘We made a kind

of official promise.’

The first ad, which hit the screens over three-and-a-half years ago,

began as a spoof on soft drinks commercials with its starring character

being a poor unfortunate who is neither popular nor successful. The

formula worked.

In one commercial, the cyclist is riding hell for leather, drinking Solo

rather than an isotonic drink. First one cyclist overtakes him, then

another and, finally, an old lady goes by.

The ad ends with the award-winning line: ‘Solo - probably the only soft

drink that cures nothing but thirst.’

That ad won a bronze award at Cannes. Another bronze-winner features a

girl sitting alone at a table in a cafe trying to catch the attention of

a good-looking hunk at another table - until his boyfriend walks in and

joins him.

But the ad which won the highest overseas award, the golden lion at

Cannes, features an eccentric old opera star singing an out-of-tune

version of Happy Birthday on stage. The singer takes a swig of Solo then

continues singing - in exactly the same way.

The most recent commercial stars a rock band getting into the swing of

the gig, seeing rows of fans in front of the stage. The lead singer,

drinking Solo, throws his empty bottle into the audience then flings

himself into the throng - only to realise that there is no-one beyond

the fourth row. The rest of the pitch-black auditorium is empty. He

lands in a heap.

Horpen says Solo, which is owned by five different Norwegian breweries,

has plans to develop the campaign further but she would not offer


‘We’re happy to keep the campaign as it is, along the same lines, but we

are discussing different ways of execution,’ he explains.

Norwegian advertising statistics estimate Solo’s annual expenditure on

advertising at around 5 million Norwegian crowns (pounds 1.5 million).

Karlberg says there is more ground to cover. The ads only appear on TV

and in cinemas but there are no immediate plans to go into print.

‘But there is still a lot to do and a long way to go on in-store

activities,’ Karlberg says, citing shelf-spacing, product placement and

vending machines.

‘That’s where Solo will meet the hard competition from Coca-Cola, which

is the world champion at things like that.’

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