DIET COKE STEERS DOWN 2 PATHS WITH DUELING AD CAMPAIGNS: WIEDEN ADS OFFER REAL-LIFE SCENARIOS AND NO TAGLINE

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In a bid to stir sluggish sales, Coca-Cola Co. is mixing up its ad support for Diet Coke with two dramatically different campaigns, one a major departure for the diet cola category.

A spokesman for Coca-Cola said the approaches will co-exist and are part of the same strategy of marketing the brand targeted at 21-to-49-year-olds as a beverage that makes you look and feel your best.

The dual approach, some observers warned, could dilute Diet Coke's marketing message. The company spent $39 million behind the brand through October of last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

ADS FROM WIEDEN, LOWE

The radically different spots from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., were slated to debut on MTV over the weekend. The more traditional creative from incumbent Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, began airing recently and carries the existing umbrella theme "You are what you drink."

Lowe also is testing five more spots for the brand under a new theme (AA, Jan. 12).

The creative from Wieden consists of serial-type dialogues that carry no tagline.

The Coca-Cola spokesman said the Wieden work "tries to capture the emotional connection" with Diet Coke. In initial testing, he said, consumers said they liked the real-life scenarios and the fact they are not flashy.

There are three 30-second spots each in the initial two serial efforts, with characters seemingly in life-like situations; Diet Coke is in the hands of the characters but the beverage and its attributes are never discussed.

One depicts parents trying to talk to their son about his girlfriend and job problems. The other shows a dad trying to talk with his young daughter about the facts of life during a trip to the zoo.

`A SERIOUS ERROR'

Taking two approaches could backfire, said marketing consultant Al Ries, who's a fan of the "Just for the taste of it" theme Coca-Cola used to launch the brand in 1982 and resurrected for 18 months before replacing it last spring.

"It is always a serious error when you run two different campaigns at the same time," he said. "It is hard enough to get in the mind with one idea. When you do two at the same time, you're guaranteed not to get in the mind."

"The diet sector is a yawn," said David Goldman, a beverage analyst with Robinson-Humphrey Co., Atlanta, adding that new products, not new advertising, are needed to boost sales.

According to Beverage Digest, total soft drink case volume in supermarkets was up 2.6% during the first 11 months of 1997 while volume for diet soft drinks-colas and non-colas-fell 1.4%, compared with the same period a year ago.

Diet soft drinks held 27.4% of the $54 billion business for the period, down 1.1 share points compared with a year ago. Diet Coke, still the top-selling diet cola, was down 0.1% in sales through September, from the prior year.

Pepsi-Cola Co. also has been quiet on the diet cola front. However, Chairman-CEO Craig Weatherup said at a recent industry conference the company will be "very aggressive" with Diet Pepsi this year.

TO STAY WITH CAMPAIGN

The marketer last April broke a new campaign themed "This is diet?" with TV spots from BBDO Worldwide, New York, and there are no signs that effort will be changed. Through October of last year, the company spent $19 million on the brand.

Triarc Cos. this month started the first national advertising for Diet Rite cola in four years (AA Jan. 19). The TV and print campaign, from Blum/Herbstreith, New York, is budgeted at $3.5 million.

The Diet Rite strategy is to stand out as a better-for-you alternative to Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, touting the product as the only cola with no calories, caffeine or sodium.

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