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[Rio de Janeiro] Coca-Cola Co. is hopping through Latin America with a new symbol designed to appeal to its biggest customers in the region-supermarket-shopping moms.

An $800,000 research project in Brazil helped Coke identify a motherly female kangaroo as the advertising device most likely to appeal to the women, usually shopping for families, who ring up 80% of Coke's $3.5 billion Brazilian sales.

The kangaroo is now being tested among women in Argentina and Venezuela, said Coke's Brazilian marketing director, Odilon Almeida Jr.

Latin America, teeming with a young population, is one of the fiercest battlegrounds in the cola wars. Both Coke and PepsiCo Inc. are investing billions on marketing and bottling operations, with Coke clearly in the lead. The Atlanta company notched the most recent big victory in December by winning approval from Venezuelan regulators for its joint venture with the Cisneros Bottling Group-which in August dumped a 60-year alliance with Pepsi. The blow to Pepsi, based in Purchase, N.Y., was particularly punishing given that Venezuela was one of the few markets in the world where Pepsi outsold Coke. (Pepsi, however, may find some solace in the fact that Venezuelan authorities, while approving the Coke-Cisneros alliance, also fined Coke almost $2 million for violating laws designed to protect free competition.)

In Brazil, Coke increased its share of the soft-drink market in 1996 to 52.3% from 50.3% , while Pepsi fell to 4.3% from 7.6%. The latest tactic in Coke's Brazil blitz focuses on soft-drink buying mothers to boost 1997 sales by 13% to $4 billion.

Even Coke realizes a kangaroo is a big leap in strategy. Ads are themed "Mom knows everything" and feature the kangaroo sporting sunglasses and toting Coke cans in her pouch instead of a baby. The kangaroo concept was developed by Duailibi, Petit, Zaragoza, a SÌo Paulo agency that launched Coke's Fruitopia in the country in September 1995.

Print ads and point-of-sale material featuring the kangaroo broke in November in Brazil, but Coke is testing two different TV approaches for the $20 million kangaroo campaign before commercials air in February, according to Mr. Almeida.

One spot, by McCann-Erickson Worldwide, a global Coke agency, barely shows the kangaroo, instead focusing on a mother and homemaker. The DPZ commercial, in contrast, features a cartoon kangaroo turning into a real one. "To give life to the kangaroo can be dangerous because it could become a caricature, with a personality that wouldn't reach all of our target," Mr. Almeida conceded.

For Coke, Mr. Almeida hired market research institute Gap/Brazil to interview 12 groups, of women age 35 to 45, half in SÌo Paulo and half in Recife (representing the industrialized south and poorer north of Brazil). In focus groups the subjects said they felt neglected by media even though they were responsible for purchasing all the products that enter their households.

Although there are no kangaroos in Brazil, the animal tested well among the Brazilian women, who said they thought it represented freedom but at the same time responsibility and care for children. Of course, one of the alternatives

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