COCA-COLA'S SURGE, CHERRY COKE PLOT NEW PROMOS: AIM IS TO BUILD STRONGER TIES WITH CONSUMERS OF SOFT DRINK BRANDS

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Coca-Cola Co. is stepping up efforts to develop closer brand relationships with consumers through new promotions for Surge and Cherry Coke.

Industry executives say it's no longer enough in the fiercely competitive $54 billion U.S. soft-drink business to build a brand using just TV ads, sports sponsorships and under-the-cap promotions.

"In the new brand environment, it's critical to have consumers identify with the brand as much as possible and to find ways that make that connection even stronger," said Michael Guth, brand manager for Surge.

CONTEST FOR SURGE

In addition to ads from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, the rollout of Surge, a year-old rival to Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew, has been supported with product sampling and a contest that included the giveaway of 39 refurbished Checker Cabs.

"Our strategy has been to continually reinforce the Surge experience in as direct a way as possible," said Mr. Guth.

Earlier this year Coca-Cola sent out 400,000 mailings with coupons and compact discs. In 1998, the marketer will not only mail out CDs -- 300,000 of them featuring songs from groups such as Third Eye Blind, Foo Fighters and Moby -- but will include a CD-ROM "studio" with which teens can create their own music.

For convenience stores, the company created a barrel cooler with a hockey game on the lid that is played with a Surge cap for a puck. When a player scores a goal, the barrel is programmed to yell "Surge."

SPORTS CONNECTIONS

Other marketing programs include a scratch-and-win promotion tied to the Winter Olympics and a link with the National Hockey League. In addition, two new TV spots from Burnett will hit in February, continuing the theme, "Feed the rush."

The burst of promotional activity accompanies the expansion of the citrus-flavor soft-drink's distribution from 60% to about 90% of the country. New markets include New York and Los Angeles.

Coca-Cola spent $12.4 million in measured media for Surge during the first nine months of 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting, while Pepsi-Cola spent $32 million on Mountain Dew, more than it spent on the brand for all of 1996.

Tom Pirko, president of consultancy Bevmark, said Surge activities are helping Mountain Dew.

"Mountain Dew has had a fabulous year. Part of that is Coke is helping them to build the segment," he said.

According to Beverage Digest, Mountain Dew ranked fourth among the top 10 soft-drink brands through Sept. 27, with a 6.3% market share and a volume increase of 15.2% over the same period a year ago. Surge increased share in some of its initial markets but decreased in others through Sept. 28, with a range from 0.6% of the market in Detroit to 3.4% in Seattle/Tacoma.

WEB SITE FOR CHERRY COKE

For Cherry Coke, a decade-old minor brand that gets little ad support, Coca-Cola is launching a new Web site that encourages user interactivity. Beginning this month, the site (www.cherrycoke.com) will feature four monthly competitions asking visitors to create, among others, a movie treatment and a design for a computer screen-saver. Winners will get their own page on the site.

The Web competition was developed by MediaCircus Interactive Advertising, New York. Cliff Freeman & Partners handles creative for Cherry Coke; it produced three new TV spots this year with the teen-targeted theme, "Do something

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