Obscure Allusions, Weird Contradictions, Inadequate Product Focus

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Client: Coca-Cola Co.
Agency: Berlin Cameron & Partners/Red Cell, New York
Star Rating: 2.5

There's a song in one of the commercials from Coke's new "Real" campaign that asks the musical question: "Real compared to what?"


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Penelope Cruz's belch sounds real enough in this spot.
Berlin Cameron & Partners/Red Cell, New York, is grounded in the premise that Americans are fed up with contrivance, artifice and the inauthentic. We are offered, therefore, a series of spots that turn cola-ad convention upside down, by showing people behaving like real people -- minus the ridiculous soda-pop ad hyper-fun, minus the toothy grins, minus the gooey sentiment.

So far, so good. One ad shows a gorgeous celebrity babe in a tank top suggestively chugging a full 12 ounces -- only it's not Cindy Crawford, in Pepsi super slo-mo. It's Penelope Cruz, in real time, and when she's done she burps. Another shows a college kid realistically poaching a care package sent by his roommate's mom. Another shows Courtney Cox in a bit of marital impatience with her hubby David Arquette. Another, to the tune of "The Girl From Ipanema," shows Nascar-loving women ogling the drivers' butts.

Because, yo, let's get real.

But, uh, why?

OK, let's just say the consumer research for such far-flung categories as blue jeans and beer (Budweiser's "True") and prime-time TV is correct: We demand the real deal. Swell. What does that have to do with Coca-Cola? What is there about a soft drink that is more or less authentic than anything else? Is it the real high-fructose corn syrup? The real caramel coloring? The real CO2-tank-infused carbonation? Apart from a dash of cola-nut extract, a can of Coke is about as unreal a beverage experience as you can have. Strange, in this day and age, to call attention to such, shall we say, non-essential ingredients.

Desperate for a message
AdReview surmises that the Coca-Cola Co., in its desperation to find a coherent message and a consistent style, was bedazzled by the coincidence of the unambiguous research data with nostalgia for the '70s-era theme "The Real Thing" (and the world cola domination that accompanied it). Ah, and what was "The Real Thing" real in comparison to?

Why, Pepsi, of course.

But here's the thing: That was 30 years ago. Not only have the intervening decades rendered silly the juxtaposition of "real" and soda pop, they have utterly obliterated any consumer perception of Pepsi as a knockoff or Johnny-come-lately. The best customers are 15 years old, for crying out loud. They won't get the sly Cindy Crawford allusion, much less the Nascar one to the 1963 Diet Pepsi ad with a bossa nova jingle called "The Girls Girlwatchers Watch."

'Real' celebrities
And by the way, by what standards of "real" do Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Penelope Cruz, drivers Tony Stewart and Bobby LaBonte, the R&B diva Mya and hip-hop star Common qualify as just folks? Even if the "Real" theme had the same resonance it once did, the weird contradiction inherent in the celebrity casting undercuts the whole premise.

This campaign is a lot hipper than what Coke has done lately, but that's not saying a great deal. What continues to be missing is the focus on the product, on the intrinsic qualities of Coca-Cola that may not make it un-artificial, but nonetheless damn good with popcorn or a burger -- which, if we're not mistaken, is the real reason people buy the stuff.