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Marketer Urges World's Consumers to 'Think Before They Drink'

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- A new soft drink that mimics Coca-Cola's branding and promises 20% of its profits to Palestinian and Muslin charities is
Tawfik Mathlouthi and a bottle of Mecca Cola Classic. The London Times says the drink is 'now seen as politically preferable to Pepsi or Coke.'
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riding a wave of publicity and anti-American sentiment here.

Anti-war march
Mecca-Cola, a soft drink which launched in France last November, scored a recent public relations coup by dubbing itself sponsor of the 1 million-strong peace march in London on Feb. 15. Marchers were handed 36,000 bottles of the cola and 10,000 t-shirts with the Mecca-Cola logo and the message "Stop the War" and "Not in my Name."

In a stunt visible to those watching the demonstration on TV in London, a vehicle topped with a 20-foot-high Mecca-Cola can pulled a trailer with an outdoor board saying "All human beings are born free and equal ... and should think before they drink."

The stunt earned Mecca-Cola this reference in London's Sunday Times: "The drink now seen as politically preferable to Pepsi or Coke."

U.S. policy as advertising
"I might come to advertising in a year or two, but right now Mr. Bush is making our advertising with all his aggression and his war logic," said Tawfik Mathlouthi, Mecca-Cola's founder.

Before Mecca-Cola's launch Mr. Mathlouthi, a Tunisian-born businessman who moved to France in 1977, was best known as the founder 12 years ago of Paris' first ethnic radio station. Mecca-Cola is run from a Paris office staffed by a team of eight. Distribution is mainly through corner shops in the communities where Britain's 1.5 million Muslims are concentrated.

"I have no problem with Western products," Mr. Mathlouthi said. "Cola is a symbol of imperialism. ... I'm targeting the symbol and the politics."

Mimics Coke branding
Mecca-Cola's packaging is the one that looks like the all-American Coca-Cola. Mecca-Cola Classic is spelled out in white on red cans, pictured on MeccaCola.com, along with the promise that 20% of profits go to Palestinian and Muslim charities.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. declined to comment.

Since November, Mecca-Cola claims to have sold 800,000 1.5-liter bottles in the U.K. and the same number in France, plus

another 1 million bottles in the Middle East and Africa. Another 16 million bottles have been ordered, and some are heading to the U.S., Mr. Mathlouthi said. Still, that won't make much of a dent in Coca-Cola sales. Coca-Cola Britain has 42% of the carbonated soft-drink market.

Political protest drink
"One has to be respectful of any product which represents a political or social protest, but in terms of volume and market share, this will not be a threat to Coca-Cola or Pepsi," said John Sicher, editor of the trsde publication Beverage Digest.

Mecca-Cola is not alone pursuing the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Zam Zam Cola, an Iranian brand, is expanding its distribution. And Qibla Cola, a name that refers to the direction Muslims face when praying to Mecca, launched in the U.K. on Feb. 4 with the tagline "Liberate your taste." Qibla created print and TV ads in-house.

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Hillary Chura contributed to this report.

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