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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 10:47 GMT
The rise and fall of Sunny Delight
By Jennifer Clayton
Producer, The Money Programme

The soft drink Sunny Delight was the marketing success of the 1990s. Now its manufacturers Procter and Gamble are looking to sell the brand.

Launched in 1998 with a 10 million promotional campaign, within months Sunny Delight had become the biggest selling soft drink in the UK behind Coke and Pepsi, with sales of 160 million a year.

"It was a phenomenon. This product came from nowhere and went in as the 12th best selling grocery product. I mean, in all the time our magazine has looked at these figures, no brand has ever done that," according to Jane Bainbridge of Marketing magazine.

It had 'mum appeal'; children lapped it up; supermarkets ran out of stock.

"It was really pressure from my children. They saw it advertised. I think they drank it at their friends and they kept asking me to buy it. They thought it was orange juice and they wanted to take it to school so I thought well it's like orange juice, it's healthy and I went and bought it from the chill cabinet," said Nina Sandler, a lawyer and mother of three children.

Going wrong

Then it all went terribly wrong.

We stayed in our little castle thinking if we don't say anything, the debate will go away
Jon Walsh
Sunny Delight brand manager
The Food Commission, an independent consumer organisation, aware of all the hype about this wonder drink, started to seriously question what was actually in Sunny Delight.

"We realised that it was a product roughly equivalent to a Coca Cola-type product," said Kath Dalmeny, Policy Officer at the Food Commission.

"You realise that the kind of healthy attributes that were being given to it in the marketing campaign might not actually be justified in this case."

Consumers began to lose faith in the product, particularly when a little girl turned orange having drunk large quantities of it.

The negative publicity which surrounded this story was not helped by a badly-timed Sunny Delight ad showing a snowman turning orange.

James Griffiths, a director of the advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi which was responsible for the ad, admits that the timing was unfortunate.

"I have to say we would be the first to say that it was an own-goal," he told the BBC.

Not surprisingly, sales slumped.

"It became a focus, almost a visual focus for a number of lobby groups to really attack the brand", said Jane Woodage, public relations manager at Procter and Gamble.

Marketing campaign

The Money Programme talked to the normally-secretive team behind Sunny Delight about their initial marketing coup, as well as how they handled their critics.

Jon Walsh, former launch brand manager of Procter and Gamble, explained their biggest mistake.

"We didn't enter the debate. We sort of stayed in our little castle thinking if we don't say anything, the debate will go away."

Mothers felt misled by claims that Sunny Delight was a healthy drink, and Procter and Gamble was forced into a total rethink and a relaunch of their product.

"I did feel totally misled by the very close placement of the product next to the orange juice and the shape of the bottle," said Nina Sandler.

"It all suggested it was a freshly squeezed orange juice with sort of added goodies rather than a totally artificial product."

In the end it was a story of corporate power and consumer triumph, and of a manufacturing giant which has had to come to terms with a new world in which the consumer is increasingly wary.

The Money Programme on Sunny Delight: A Juicy Tale was broadcast at 1930 GMT on Wednesday 3 December on BBC Two.

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