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Episode Four: St. Louis Cardinals
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On June 20, Warner Bros. Pictures' feature-film version of the 1960s spy-spoof TV series "Get Smart" will pop into theaters preceded by a multimillion-dollar promotional push from PepsiCo's limited-edition Sierra Mist Undercover Orange soda.
But unlike many of the other brands officially aligned with the Steve Carell comedy (among them Subway sandwiches, Swiss Army products, Vespa scooters, QVC and Anheuser-Busch), Pepsi's latest incarnation of Sierra Mist isn't aiming for longevity, just brevity and levity.
Sales going flat
Carbonated-soft-drink sales volume in the U.S. slipped 2.3% last year to the lowest levels since 2000, according to Beverage Digest. And in an April conference call with analysts, PepsiCo confessed that sales volume had fallen another 3% in the first quarter. Like many soft-drink makers, it has seen consumers move away from carbonated soft drinks and toward noncarbonated choices, such as water and juices.
That's where "Get Smart" and Sierra Mist Undercover Orange get together.
"There's a splash of mandarin orange flavor in the soda, but it's absolutely clear in color," said Tom Meyer, president of Davie Brown Entertainment, which did the deal for Pepsi.
With most orange sodas' coloring resembling that of traffic safety cones, Sierra Mist wanted to convey a more natural, clear-as-water appearance even as it touted its new citrus flavor.
"We look at the overall marketing opportunity that comes with it: Does it come with a big idea that we can go to market with?" Mr. Meyer said. He added: "This is one where the idea -- the secret-agent component, the 'hidden' mandarin orange flavor -- drove the selection of the movie. It just lent itself to what the product is all about."
Time is ticking
Like the tape-recorder of another famous Cold War operation, it, too, will self-destruct in short order. Undercover Orange has only just hit supermarket shelves, but will be gone from stores by summer's end -- of course, not before specially created broadcast-TV and radio spots air nationally starring "Get Smart" Agent No. 23 (Duane "The Rock" Johnson), hyping both the comedy and the ephemeral beverage.
"It's an in-and-out product, and movies have a life span that's timed, too," explained Nicole Sedita, VP-promotions at Warner Bros. Pictures. "So both initiatives aligned rather nicely."
Using Hollywood comedy as a short-term product launch strategy is proving a go-to play for Pepsi. During the 2007 holiday season, it introduced Sierra Mist Free Cranberry Splash for just eight weeks, aligning its launch with the release of the Warner Bros. Christmas comedy "Fred Clause." Both were hits.