Thursday, 15 March 2012

Coke at the end of India

It is a common mistake to equate marketing with advertising. Marketing is not just advertising, although that's one important component. Decades ago, a marketing guru defined the 4Ps of marketing - Product, price, place and promotion. In countries like India, its often distribution (place) that is the key to a business success. Getting your product to every one of the 5 million or so outlets is a monumental task, but is often the key to success. Nobody does this better than Coca Cola.

I am hardly the first person to marvel at Coke's distribution capability all around the world. Melinda Gates, for example, did it in one of the TED talks - What non profits can learn from Coca Cola. It was a brave talk - the not for profit sector often derides and holds in contempt the corporate sector. But you can't run away from the lessons that Melinda Gates draws from Coke.

Consider this

The place is Dhanushkodi, almost the very tip of India - well past Rameshwaram. Its virtually an abandoned place. Almost nobody lives here. You have to drive by a 4 wheel drive across the sands of the sea to reach there.  There is no electricity, no road, no buildings, no nothing. But a few hardy souls go there, some as pilgrims, some as tourists. And what awaits them is a shop that sells Coke. There is nothing else. You can't even get a cup of tea. But you can get a Coke.

For a fascinating account of the history of Dhanushkodi go here - its a lovely post from a fellow blogger who often comments here. It was her post that prompted me to actually go to Dhanushkodi.

About 200 hardy fisherfolk live there now. All in thatched huts on the sands. Its a hard life , for other than the catch of the sea they have to trek 20 kms across wet sand to reach anywhere or buy anything. The memory of the 1964 cyclone that destroyed the town is everywhere - see the remnants of railway station of that time.

But in the midst of this desolation, there is one sight that warms the heart - in many ways it foretells the future of India. There is only one pucca building in this place.

Its a school !


RS said...

The last picture (and your last few words) spoke it all.

Dhanushkodi is my favorite place, too: worth the effort we take to travel the last 20kms....

By the way, did you see the majesticity of the sea standing on the Pamban bridge? The colors and all....Its been 8yrs since I have been there and just the thought of it brings in the beauty of the entire scene that cannot be captured in a photograph!

Sandhya Sriram said...

one of tht thinks that coke has really got right is of course their reach.

what they have not wanted to get right is possibly their product.

i think there is an abundant scope for making a better formulation but they dont want to try it. beyond an orange and a lemon flavour, they just have struck to what they have.

there was a movie called 63rd Pulikesi (i have mentioned it in your blog earlier) where they make a big mockery on the formulation of these items and they also talk about how this is a strategy of the east india company to dump the market with junk. i like coke as well, but i feel it is heavily promoted junk :-)

Vishal said...

Tough post to comment upon, Ramesh! So many questions and I can relate to voice of each one who is going to comment... :) there are so many things that always ought to be done depending on the disperse perceptions. After all, the reach is so wide and so vivid! :)

School and Coke reminds me of support my school campaign, they are doing some great work!

Asha said...

Business and Dhanushkodi - an interesting combination.

So Dhanushkodi does business, though on a small scale. Glad you made it to the place and brought us a first hand report.

When the power goes off even for a few secs before the generator can take over, I can hear the oh's, ha's and other sulks of my neighbours (me too no exception), Imagine those people surviving without all those needs.

The first photo where the people have rested under the table of the shop has captured the reality of the place.

Pranav said...

For some reason, I thought this place had been submerged. I really am quite ignorant. I had no idea the town still existed.

gils said...

ooh antha oor inum iruka??!! thot it was submerged!!

Ramesh said...

@RS - Yes, the Pamban bridge is majestic too. The view of the bridge from a boat is wonderful.

@Sandhya - Product tastes vary and every time they have strayed away from their traditional Coke formula, they have suffered. Remember New Coke fiasco of the 1980s.

@Vishal - Hey ; you guys must take a bow. Coke distribution is probably better than Levers now. That's saying something.

@Asha - Yes,its a tough tough place.

@Pranav, Gils - No its very much there.

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

A modern-day Hampi! Excellent writing.

Venkat said...

10.5 years has passed away from the day i visited this place. dhanukodi, mandapam & srirangapattinam are very important place in my life. just remembering all the memories of years.
Did you notice the military life at this place, the superhuman who drives vehicle on sand bulk, little boys & girls who fearlessly swim across raatchatha azhaigal. natural ability of people who live in that island are unimaginable.

nice that you captured photos with liveliness. a school at island is what to be proud about our land, a gift from visionary leader K.Kamaraj. young generations vow him lot.

Vishal said...

Oh, that is indeed some saying, Ramesh! Probably, we don't realize that when we look from inside. There is only one mantra inside which is to raise the bar day after day, month after month and quarter after quarter.

I can't help but share with you that consumer leadership is such an insightful function which has so much of information and so many stratified facts. Then, you have a great sales force on ground executing the plans by channel, brand, pack and price. Indeed proud to be on Coke side of life for fair bit of time now! :)

Kudos for this post. Awesome combination of business, history, tourism and knowledge!

Ramesh said...

@Venkat - Yes its a hard life, but the situation seems to have eased somewhat with the stopping of the LTTE activity. Lot more peace and some conditions have eased too.

@Vishal - Indeed. Listen to the Melinda Gates speech where she rightly brings out the strengths of Coke.

J said...

Coke in Dhanushkodi! My reaction is simultaneously a twinge of irritation at such corporations for robbing these remote places of their pristine quality (with due apologies to Vishal if he is indeed at Coke) and at the same time admiration at the reach of these global giants. Nice to hear about the school.

Ramesh said...

@J - Actually the Coke stand is quite cool - don't you think :)

Hema said...

Interesting! Did you go there just to visit the place?

"It is ruined, its almost lifeless;
But there is coke at the end of the bow,
And a school so harmless,
To make sure the future does not lie low!"

Ramesh said...

@Hema - Ah - a poet's colours truly shows :)

sulo badri said...

Thats called marketing genius ;) read the dhanushkodi post too, should go there some time...

ps. loved the school building ;)

Reflections said...

All 3 pictures each told a story on their own:-).
Loved Vishal's comment overall but wd like to highlight the last bit[kudos bit] in bold:-))

Ramesh said...

@Sulo - Definitely worth going

@Reflections - Thank you Thank you Thank you

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