FIRED UP OVER TORCH;COKE USES RELAY TO HELP IGNITE AWARENESS OF ITS OLYMPIC ROLE

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On its way to Atlanta, the Coca-Cola Torch Relay has run into storms and high winds that threatened to snuff the flame, floods on the Mississippi River, and irked BMW dealers. A public relations disaster was averted near Niagara Falls, when Indians from the Seneca Nation, who had threatened to douse the flame and relight it from their own land, reconsidered.

But Coca-Cola Co. is nevertheless expected to emerge a big winner among Olympic sponsors when the torch ends its 15,000-mile, 84-day journey July 19, opening day of the Summer Games.

$20 MIL TORCH

Coca-Cola reportedly paid $20 million to be sole sponsor of the torch relay, and its investment is already paying off. It outscored all other Olympic sponsors in consumer awareness of Games sponsorship, according to a survey by Gallup & Robinson.

In unaided awareness, the survey of 250 consumers found that 47% knew Coca-Cola was associated with the Games; McDonald's Corp. was second with 34%.

Coca-Cola is backing the relay with a network and spot TV campaign from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.

McCann's Momentum IMC event marketing unit is orchestrating the event. Each day, 65 staffers hit the road, dispensing millions of "I saw the torch" stickers. More than 300,000 bottles of Coca-Cola have been sold during the relay, raising $150,000 for charity, said Momentum President Tony Pace.

Neither Momentum nor Coca-Cola would comment on the various problems, some of which were shared by Olympic sponsor BMW of North America. BMW supplied vehicles and TV spots via Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, but some dealers were frustrated by a lack of control over their role in the relay.

Brendan Harris, Coca-Cola's director of the torch relay, said: "After 68 years of Olympic sponsorship, this is a remarkable way of sharing it with the world and not just the host country or the host city."

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