limited edition, unlimited appeal

Updated: Feb 2 2006, 05:30am hrs
If you are among those who believe that love doesnt have to taste like a box of chocolate, you could have celebrated this Valentines Day with the exclusive 2006 packs of Jones Soda. Each limited edition pack offers two bottles of Love Potion #6, a Love Potion #6 Lip Balm to soften the lips, a CD collection of songs, among other things.

If only you were in the US.

But marketers back home are not too far behind. As a sampler, consider what the countrys No 1 automaker Maruti Udyog is doing. It has just launched WagonR Primea, a special limited edition of its B-segment car. In fact, we should have said relaunched a special limited edition instead. The company had introduced the WagonR Primea briefly in December 2005 and then showcased it at the Auto Expo 2006. The tremendous response it elicited urged the company to bring the WagonR Primea back again in January.

Conventional wisdom suggests that to offer a limited edition the product category should be able to handle a premium. So FMCG products do not fit the bill. And low-end durables too do not work (imagine a limited edition mixie!) But see what PepsiCo is up to. It has just introduced Pepsi Cafe Chino, again a limited edition, and propped it up with a power-packed advertising campaign. Vipul Prakash, executive vice-president, marketing, Pepsi Foods, says, Our objective is to offer consumers a new experiencesomething they cant get elsewhere. Pepsis new variant Cafe Chino will be available for two months only.

In sync with the mood of the market, cola major Coca-Cola India has unveiled its special edition Rang De Basanti 300-ml returnable glass bottle. Vikas Gupta, vice-president, marketing, Coca-Cola India, says, The film (Rang De Basanti) underscores the values of truth and optimism. These emotions also reflect Cokes current theme of Piyo sar utha ke. This initiative will help us connect with our target audience.

Across the spectrum, Hindustan Lever has introduced a limited edition set of three exclusive variantsAromatic Glow, Chocolate Seduction and Lux White Spa body washunder its flagship soap brand Lux. According to Ashok Venkatramani, vice-president, skin care, HLL, Its the perfect way to celebrate Luxs 75 years of stardom.

Consumer connect, excitement, celebrationwhatever be the reason, the saturated marketing environment is pressing brands of all sizes to engage consumers and become more relevant with guerilla tactics. And many are learning that a good way to go guerilla is through one-offs or limited runs whose value isnt an immediate monetary one.

Take the Corolla Limited Edition launched by Toyota Kirloskar Motor in 2005. As the purpose of introducing Corolla Limited Edition 2005 wasnt increasing sales but providing exclusivity and creating excitement among Corolla buyers, says Atsushi Toyoshima, managing director, Toyota Kirloskar Motor, only 250 units were manufactured. We sold out the Corolla Limited Edition 2005 in just over a month.

Amara Raja had something similar on its mind when it launched the limited edition battery series in late 2005 to commemorate Narain Karthikeyan reaching the pinnacle of motor sport with his entry into Formula One racing. Says the company, The effort certainly enhanced the brand image. It reiterated the brand associations long life, innovation and tech superiorityand brought out the innovative spirit of the company.

What probably undermines the value of limited runs is the lack of clear-cut benchmarks to gauge its success. Ideally, limited editions are not expected to contribute a big number to the overall sales volume of a brand. So its withdrawal may not have a big impact on the numbers. Plagued by ill-defined returns, is there a sustainable case for special editions Yes, if market optimism is anything to go by. Says a Delhi-based brand consultant, It all depends on how the marketer wants to use it. Many a times they are used to test waters. Case in point Marutis WagonR. Maruti has repeatedly used limited editions as a tool to test out new concepts and gauge consumer feedback on its available range, says the company spokesperson.

Thats not to say special editions have been conceived to avert disaster-like situations. The WagonR, which has seen a series of special editions, is among the companys top selling brands. (WagonR sales between April and December 2005 stood at 62,550, up 10% over 56,821 units sold during the same time the year before). And in December 2005, it became the largest selling in its category clocking 8,027 in sales. Many of the features in the 2003 WagonRthe roof rails, the grille and body graphicswere tested out with the WagonR Pride (special edition) launched in 2002, he adds.

Pepsi, on the other hand, has a penchant for launching limited editions to stay top of mind. During the cricket World Cup three years ago, it launched Pepsi Blue. Then came Pepsi Aha followed by Mirinda Berry Fusion, BatMobile and 7UP Ice.

But beyond the hype, there is also the question of customer fatigue. Says MG Parameswaran, executive director, FCB-Ulka Advertising, Marketers need to use limited editions as strategic weapons to inject newness into their brands. Unfortunately, car marketers overused it as a tactical tool, to the extent the trade instantly called limited editions special offer cars.

Yet, brands refuse to let up. As a marketer of a premium shoe brand puts it, If you weigh the cost of producing limited edition shoes against the ad budgets of many brands, then theyre good value. It allows brands to get into the right place, something ads couldnt do on their own.

With inputs from Lalitha Srinivasan