Coke energizes Tab, Neville Isdell's fave

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Coke looks all set to revive Tab.

The soft drink in the pink can, introduced in 1963 by Coca-Cola Co., hasn't been widely available for decades, but the beverage giant is contemplating putting a push behind a new energy-drink version of the brand.

Coca-Cola has registered the brand name Tab Energy with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and an executive close to the marketer said it has tapped Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, to promote an energy-enhanced line extension of Tab. (Another executive confirmed the agency was working on an energy drink but wouldn't specify whether it was branded Tab).

Kirshenbaum referred calls to the client. Coca-Cola declined to comment.

Talk of a Tab comeback first surfaced when Coca-Cola Co. Chairman-CEO E. Neville Isdell spoke last year before a beverage conference with a can of the diet drink (label facing out) from a speaker podium. Yet, Coke executives have continuously denied that the cola with a cult following and an urban legend that its name meant "totally artificial beverage" would factor into the marketer's turnaround plans.

MARY'S M.O.

A new version of Tab could fill the bill for Coke as it tries to tap into the growth of diets and neutralize competition from Cadbury Schweppes' resurgent Diet Rite. A kicked-up variety also falls neatly into new marketing boss Mary Minnick's modus operandi of making old brands new with added benefits.

Originally was made with saccharin and cyclamates before the latter was banned in 1969, Tab's formula has undergone myriad changes. There was a caffeine-free version in 1983, a saccharin-aspartame variety in 1984 and flavored versions with lemon-lime and orange. In 1993, Coca-Cola hired its former marketing executive (now consultant) Sergio Zyman to rapidly develop Tab Clear to take on Crystal Pepsi. It launched later that year in the U.K., but both brands disappeared within a year.

It is unclear whether Coke will alter the sweetener composition of Tab to a Splenda combination or retain its saccharin-aspartame profile. If it does tweak the sweetener, Coke risks alienating die-hards.

Since the late 1990s it has kept the brand available for its very small but fanatic consumer base. Many of them have joined forces in a group called I Love Tab, which has circulated a "Save Tab" petition with 115 signatures. Other Tab Web sites advise zealots where they can buy the drink in limited supply; 3.6 million cases of Tab were sold last year, according to Beverage Digest.

Among Tab devotees are Mr. Isdell, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it is his favorite drink, and John Dooner, chairman-CEO at McCann Worldgroup-a Coca-Cola agency-who is known to keep a stash on hand.

Keeping Tab

* First introduced in 1963 by the Coca-Cola Co.

* Originally made with saccharine and cyclamates before latter was banned in 1969. A saccharin-aspartame variety was introduced in 1984. Tab Clear came out in 1993 (and died soon after).

* 3.6 million cases sold last year, according to Beverage Digest.

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