Coca-Cola heads online to win teens for Sprite

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Coca-Cola Co. will dedicate a significant chunk of next year's Sprite ad budget to an Internet project aimed at doubling the amount of Sprite consumed by teens.

The "Drink Sprite. Get RocketCash. Buy what you want" effort will run in print, online, radio and TV to support Sprite.com, the company's first e-commerce initiative. Company execs said the campaign will break shortly after the site goes live on Oct. 15. Coca-Cola eventually will distribute more than 1 billion bottles with under-the-cap codes, which may be redeemed for 20 cents to $1 off purchases at RocketCash.com, a Web site that allows visitors to shop without credit cards. One in 12 bottles will offer a free Sprite, with the other 11 carrying cash codes, said Pina Sciarra, director of teen brands.

"Teens are on the Internet, and it is growing exponentially," Ms. Sciarra said.

Launching and supporting the promotion will cost the world's biggest soft drink company more than $10 million by the end of the year. In 1999, the brand was supported with $68.4 million in measured media -- almost 20% of the marketer's total ad outlay, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

HEFTY ONLINE SPENDING

Agency of record Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, New York, handled the Sprite.com effort. An executive close to Coca-Cola indicated about one-third of the brand's ad budget could support the online effort.

Sprite, the country's No. 6 soft drink, is targeting its core consumers -- aged 12 to 18 -- with the promotion. According to Ms. Sciarra, 95% of teens polled said they would participate. More than 75% of Americans drink at least one Sprite a year, she said.

Goods from RocketCash.com will include makeup, music downloads and pagers.

The Atlanta-based soft drink marketer will reimburse the more than 100 merchants, who include Borders Group, MCI Worldcom Prepaid and Eve.com, a cosmetics retailer, Ms. Sciarra said.

The effort, scheduled through 2001, marks the company's longest-running promotion. Every 20-ounce, 1-liter and 500-milliliter Sprite bottle will carry the codes, she saigd.

To redeem awards, consumers must go to Sprite.com, open a RocketCash account and enter their codes to learn how much the caps are worth. Consumers may add value with credit cards, personal checks or money orders. They also will have access to special discounts and merchandise, such as a T-shirt designed by NBA star Grant Hill, said Dick Patton, Sprite brand manager.

PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola Co. teamed with Yahoo! on Aug. 14 to launch a similar promotion called PepsiStuff.com. Consumers cash in points from marked bottle caps or game pieces for merchandise, digital awards and discounts online.

Separately, Sprite is running a promotion offering commemorative cans featuring USA Basketball players. The grand prize winner of the promo, tied to the Olympics, wins a match-up with a basketball great.

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

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