Coca-Cola's Surge sets nat'l rollout

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Coca-Cola Co. is escalating its assault on archrival Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew by expanding distribution of Surge nationwide.

Frank Bifulco, VP-marketing, Coca-Cola USA, said the marketer plans to have Surge rolled out nationally by early next year. The "fully loaded citrus soda" was launched into select markets in January and is now in about 55% to 60% of U.S. markets.

Surge is already being marketed more aggressively, and that support is expected to be ramped up as the brand hits new markets. A Coca-Cola spokesman said Burnett is producing a new crop of four TV spots with the brand's youth-oriented theme, "Feed the rush."

The brand's multiyear tie-in to the National Hockey League--alongside siblings Coca-Cola Classic and Powerade--kicked off earlier this month.

1% TO 2% SHARE

Surge has garnered a 1% to 2% share of beverage sales in introductory markets, said Andrew Conway, a beverage analyst with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, who termed that a "very solid performance" for a new beverage.

"Coca-Cola felt under-represented in the citrus category. While it takes many years for brand building, 1997 is a good start," he said.

In one indication of Coca-Cola's commitment to Surge, Mr. Bifulco, who is in charge of marketing for 19 brands, referred to it in an interview with Advertising Age as one of the company's four core brands, alongside Coca-Cola Classic, Diet Coke and Sprite.

The Surge launch, supported with TV spots from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, and $9.3 million in the first half of '97, hasn't yet affected Mountain Dew.

Measured spending for Mountain Dew in the first six months of this year was $24.8 million, nearing the $29.6 million spent on the brand for all of 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting. BBDO Worldwide, New York, is Mountain Dew's agency.

"I don't think Pepsi should be concerned because Mountain Dew has been growing double digits," Mr. Conway said. "Surge has expanded growth of Mountain Dew even though pricing of Mountain Dew dropped 5% on average at retail in the key summer months."


Beverage Digest reported Mountain Dew posted market share growth of 0.5% in the first half of 1997, with a 13.7% rise in unit volume. It ranks fourth among the top 10 brands, behind Coke, Pepsi and Diet Coke, with a 6.2% share.

"Mountain Dew is a rocket ship that can't be stopped," said Brian Swette, exec VP-chief marketing officer, Pepsi-Cola.

Coca-Cola also is expanding distribution of Citra, a citrus soft drink launched last January in selected markets that observers view as more of a niche brand. Creative for Citra is handled by Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco.

For the first half, ad spending on Citra was a mere $627,600, according to CMR. Goldberg has done two TV spots for the brand with the tagline, "No thirst is safe." That tag is expected to continue as the rollout continues next year.


"Our target is to be in 40% to 50% of the country in 1998," Mr. Bifulco said. "Our approach to Citra is much more targeted," he added, calling the brand--seen as a competitive strike against Cadbury Schweppes' Squirt--a "meaningful part of our total mix."

A new Pepsi lemon-lime soft drink, code-named Storm, has not yet made it to the test-market stage. "We're tight-lipped on this one," said Mr. Swette. "I think people are a little ahead on this one."

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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