COKE'S FRUITOPIA: WAS IT BORN ON COLLEGE CAMPUS?

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It was deja vu for Carrington Powers when she read last month about Coca-Cola Co.'s aggressive marketing plan for a New Age juice drink called Fruitopia.

That's because in 1991, Ms. Powers and 50 other students spent their summer in a rigorous Miami (of Ohio) University marketing program. Their assignment: come up with a complete marketing plan-from product name to advertising and promotions-for a sparkling water and juice drink in development under the Minute Maid brand at Coca-Cola Foods Canada.

Ms. Powers and her team, one of three in the Laws, Hall & Associates program, called the drink Fruitopia.

While her group won recognition from Coca-Cola Foods Canada for best overall marketing plan, the client thought the Fruitopia name was "kind of `iffy,"' Ms. Powers told Advertising Age. For their efforts, each of the students got a certificate and a Coca-Cola pen.

"They told me that they liked the design concept of my label and that they really might use it," said the 1992 graduate in graphic design, who was creative director and co-leader of the team.

After gaining some automotive account experience at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Lintas Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Ms. Powers now works at Kelly Services in New York, placing temporary employees.

Graphics and packaging for the eight-juice drink rolling out in the U.S. this month, with flavors like Grape Beyond, bear little resemblance to Ms. Powers' design. The name, however, is identical.

"I couldn't believe it," said Ron Taylor, a former Laws, Hall adviser who's now a marketing professor at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. "It's Fruitopia just the way we spelled it and everything."

Like the Coca-Cola Foods Canada project, Fruitopia is being marketed under the Minute Maid umbrella. Coca-Cola, however, denies there's a connection between the two Fruitopias.

"Our marketing group, working independently with Chiat/Day, came up with the name Fruitopia," said a Coca-Cola spokesman. The company, starting this summer, will spend $30 million on funky, kaleidoscopic Fruitopia advertising from Chiat's New York office.

Pride, not legal rights to the name, are what's at stake.

Like other past Laws, Hall sponsors including Procter & Gamble Co. and Molson Breweries, Coca-Cola Foods Canada paid a $15,000 to $20,000 fee and owns the research and creative ideas it generated.

Three times a year, the program, named after a campus building called Laws Hall, puts marketing, mass communication and graphic design majors to work for real companies.

"The three teams received the challenge from Coca-Cola Foods Canada to develop this sparkling fruit drink. They basically wanted the whole marketing mix," Mr. Taylor said.

Coca-Cola Foods Canada chose not to use the Fruitopia name, or the outdoorsy Sprucers name offered by another student team, when it finally introduced its fruit sparkler in Canada last year. The drinks are simply called Minute Maid Sparklers.

Coca-Cola claims the Laws, Hall students' work was never used, simply filed away. But the students and professors aren't buying it.

"They chose to take a chance on us, and we think it will pay off for them," said marketing professor Lynette McCullough.

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