The Little Brand Fights Back

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That teens drink pop, and lots of it, is no secret. This is particularly true when it comes to the "heavy citrus" category, of which Mountain Dew is far and away the leader. But at least one heavy citrus brand-which is sweeter than the lemon-lime brands and contains loads of caffeine-has taken until now to act upon the fact. This summer, spurred by increased competition, Sun-drop, a regional Southeastern soda, has launched a television and radio ad campaign targeting teens, a shift from its previous focus on 25-to-49-year-olds.

Unlike Mountain Dew's edgy advertisements featuring extreme sports and ultra-hip adolescents, Sun-drop's spots are designed to appeal to small-town kids, with creative featuring regular teens in real-life situations. In one ad, "Ladies' Man," which takes place in a high school, a boy asking girls out on dates is repeatedly turned down. In the end, he happily settles for a can of Sun-drop. "Taste, nothing else matters," goes the tagline, as he swills down the beverage.

While Sun-drop's manufacturer, Dr Pepper/Seven Up, declined to discuss its marketing campaign, industry analysts say the regional brand has woken up from its 70-year-long slumber to market to teens because of new competition from Coca-Cola. The category and kids are a natural fit: 12-to-19-year-olds are 95 percent more likely than the overall population to drink heavy citrus brands, while only 24 percent more likely to drink regular colas, according to Mediamark Research. This group of pop guzzlers is also growing steadily: By 2010, the teen population will increase 8.3 percent, from 31.4 million to 34 million.

"Sun-drop may have felt in the markets where it was strong it didn't need to target a demo," says Gary Hemphill, vice president of Beverage Marketing Corporation, an industry research company. "But with the launch of Coca-Cola's Surge in 1996, you saw an increase in spending and marketing in the category."

In 1997, Mountain Dew increased its ad spending 47.4 percent to $34.2 million, Mello Yello increased its spending 7.1 percent to $1.5 million, and Sun-drop increased its spending 115 percent to $430,000, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

With the exception of Mountain Dew, Sun-drop still leads all others in its local market. The brand has increased distribution over the past 7 years, from 26.8 million gallons to 30.2 million gallons, according to Beverage Marketing. And in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sun-drop racks up 23 percent more in sales than Mello Yello, and 120 percent more than Surge.

But Surge is just getting rolling, and has the potential to move into a lot more shelf space. And Sun-drop has eventual plans to go national, according to Joe Sain, flavors brand manager for Dr Pepper/Seven Up. So the company is attempting to dig in and begin promoting brand loyalty in the demo that is growing faster than any other key pop-drinking age group. Next to teens, the biggest soda drinkers are 18-to-24-year olds, who are 15 percent more likely to drink regular soda than the general population, but whose numbers will increase just 1 percent by 2010.

And of course there's also the perennial advertising rule of thumb: Get 'em while they're young. "Everyone knows that brand loyalty forms early, so [by targeting teens] you're building consumers," says Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark, a food and beverage consultancy. And teens are exactly who Sun-drop's going after-just not the edgy ones.

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