Double-Cola Re-Launching Iconic Brand(2)

Double-Cola at times engenders "fanatical loyalty" in its customers, which is why the company's rebranding campaign, launching in March 2011, is so important.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) -- U.S. Army Sgt. Darrin Dant couldn't find his favorite drinks where he was stationed in Iraq, so he recruited his friends and family to mail bottles of Double-Cola and Ski to his post.

"They're like a taste of home," he said. "I had them wrap the bottles really carefully in case they exploded on the way."

Michael Powell, a resident of Frankfort, Ky., can't get the drink where he lives, but he recently drove three hours to Central City, Ky., to get some Double-Cola.

"For me, there is something nostalgic about Double-Cola," he said. "I keep an eye out for it."

Double-Cola at times engenders "fanatical loyalty" in its customers, which is why the company's rebranding campaign, which will launch in March 2011, is so important, said Alnoor Dhanani, president of the Chattanooga-based company.

"It has to be a more universal design" to appeal to the growing numbers of international cola consumers, he said. "Usually we find out the more simple the design, the better it sells."

The current Americana design of the bottles, cans and packaging was last freshened up in 1999, featuring denim stitching and an evocative, retro logo. And while the company wants to broaden its appeal, it's not in a hurry to alienate its existing customer base.

"In the U.S., we're a smaller player, but we have good customers, very loyal," Dhanani said.

Still, it's time to change the iconic brand, which got its start in 1933 by launching in a 12-ounce bottle that was twice the size of competitors, while advertising "double" the flavor.

After years of slow growth, company officials say Double-Cola grew sales by double digits in 2009 and 2010, endowing it with the cash necessary for a major marketing push. In 2010 alone, Double-Cola has grown by 14 percent in the U.S. and 30 percent internationally.

"We've had a desire to change the branding for a long time," said Gina McCommon, director of marketing. "We want to put the heritage back in it. We want people to know there's something behind the brand."

Double-Cola hired New York-based S2 Design to create hundreds of prototypes, from which company executives will choose a final design by January 2011. By the end of the first quarter, the new bottles and cans will start rolling out to store shelves in key markets like Huntsville, Ala., Memphis, and Evansville, Ind., said McCommon.

"It's very labor intensive," she said. "We started the planning process for the new labels over a year ago."

Changing a label isn't just a simple matter of hitting a couple of keys on a factory terminal and pressing a green 'go' button, she said. Designers must create hundreds of candidate labels, and all except one will never see the light of day. And while cola makers rarely tinker with successful flavors, sweeteners are constantly tweaked or changed, as when the company recently switched from Aspartame to Splenda in Diet Ski.

Next, the company has to manufacture and send out new printing plates to bottlers. The plates are used to stamp designs on the company's various sized cans and bottles, a printing system similar to how a newspaper is created, said McCommon.

Finally, executives will roll out the new drinks market-by-market, shuffling old products to stores in other cities and replacing them with the newly-designed beverages.

None of this can happen without the cooperation of distributors, the partner companies that own the trucks transporting Double-Cola and the company's 50 other brands.

However, most domestic distribution networks in the soft drink industry are owned by or affiliated with competitors Coca-Cola and Pepsi, who prefer not to carry cola competitors in their trucks, McCommon said. Rampant consolidation in the distribution industry, the main bottleneck to growth, forces Double-Cola to look elsewhere to get its flagship drinks to market.

"A lot of partners we've added have been beer distributors, who have been looking for new revenue," McCommon said.

The company recently brought on 10 new distributors, she said, including some that distribute Miller and Coors products.

International markets, on the other hand, are less saturated, allowing Double-Cola more room to grow overseas.

"Internationally, the markets are still in the growth phase, and consumption is still literally a fraction of what it is here in the U.S.," Dhanani said. "We expect higher increases in growth overseas than we do here in the U.S."

Still, with the re-launch of Double-Cola in the U.S., more distributors could come on board, getting the product into more consumers' hands, he said.

"The U.S. market is very competitive, but I don't know a market that isn't," Dhanani said. "There may have been a few bumps, but our soft drink is part of the American psyche."
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