FRITO-LAY REVAMPS STRATEGY FOR STRUGGLING WOW!

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Amid what one analyst called "continued sales deterioration" of its Olean-based Wow! snacks, Frito-Lay is revamping its estimated $40 million ad campaign with a new focus.

"Bet you can't taste the difference! Or it's free!" is the theme of the TV and print effort that breaks today.

The campaign also includes a $1-off coupon in national newspaper inserts as well as point-of-purchase displays and sampling in 5,000 retail outlets.

Creative for the TV campaign, from BBDO Worldwide, New York, utilizes Cheri Oteri, the actress who plays a cheerleader on "Saturday Night Live."

The effort supplants Frito's launch advertising for Wow! that featured a woman in a tree house and a man floating on a lake, with the theme "Life tastes good again."

BELOW EXPECTATIONS

The shift in strategy comes as Wow! sales appear to have fallen short of expectations (AA, July 20). According to Schroder & Co. analyst Caroline Levy, data from Information Resources Inc. show sales of $28 million for Wow! for the four weeks ended Sept. 8. That's down from $30 million for the four weeks ended July 21 and $41 million for the four weeks ended May 24.

"Recent IRI data suggest continued soft trends in Frito-Lay volumes [flat to slightly up], which does not bode well for the quality of third-quarter earnings," said Ms. Levy in a recent report, adding that "disappointing Frito results could put further pressure on [PepsiCo] stock."

`NOTHING FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG'

Frito, however, maintains sales are on track and has attained the highest levels of repeat purchase in company history.

"Our sales are as expected for Wow!" said a spokeswoman, who acknowledged some problems in Frito's overall business. "We've experienced two soft periods on the core business, but there's nothing fundamentally wrong. We're confident we can turn it around."

The company also hasn't been spending up to traditional levels on advertising.

Overall, Frito's ad spending for the first six months of '98 was $83.2 million, off 12.6% from the year-earlier period, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Wow! received $20.1 million in spending for the first six months of '98.

And a full-blown effort for Doritos 3-Ds, originally slated for late spring, now is expected later this month. It again will feature Ali Landry as the sexy siren who appeared in an earlier Super Bowl spot.

The aim of Frito's new Wow! spots, the spokeswoman said, is simply to "play up the taste message in a new way."

Cannondale Associates consultant Ken Harris said initial advertising was too soft-sell.

"It didn't capture the spirit of Wow!" he said.

Moreover, he maintains, Procter & Gamble Co.'s launch of an Eagle line of snacks, including some Olean-based products, in Portland, Maine, in late August is a reaction to what he called Wow!'s disappointing results.

P&G's test includes three flavors of Eagle-branded Pretzel Mini-Bites and three varieties of Crispy Corn Twists.

Corn Twists are made with Olean and are low-fat, containing 1 gram of fat per serving.

GETTING CARRIED AWAY

The line is being supported with a TV and print campaign from Grey Advertising, New York, themed "With its great taste and crunch, you'll get carried away by the taste of Eagle."

P&G said it's too early to gauge sales of Eagle, but a spokeswoman said its Olean-based Fat-Free Pringles is doing well.

"Overall, we're very pleased," she said, noting that, in its latest share data, Pringles' share of the potato crisp category was at an all-time high of 19.2%, with the Olean-based line accounting for 25% of the total.

She said in test marketing, the Olean variety accounted for 15% of Pringles' total.

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