Pepsi Goes on $55 Million Binge for Diet Max

Cola Giant's Largest Investment in a Decade for a New Brand Looks to Awaken Men to the No-Cal Category

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- This is no yawner.

That's the thinking at Pepsi-Cola Co. North America, which this week begins pouring its largest investment into a new brand in a decade -- as much as $55 million -- into Diet Pepsi Max, a cross between a soft drink and an energy drink to rouse men out of that 2 p.m. slump. Pepsi is so confident in Max, which it said tested higher than any other diet-cola concept in its history, that it's putting two to three times its normal launch budget behind the theme "Wake up, people!"

Because no one in the cola category has so far cracked the code for bringing men into diets, Pepsi's bravado is eye-opening. "I expect it will be a higher share than any recent innovation you've seen from us," said Kristina Mangelsdorf, director-trademark, Pepsi.

"Our hope is it's going to become a core brand," said one West Coast bottler, who was optimistic the brand could achieve a share of 3% to 5%.

Trailing an innovation leader
Though Pepsi through its history has been known as the scrappy challenger, in recent years Coca-Cola has beaten it on innovation. Coke moved off flavor extensions to targeting so-called "need states," a direction belatedly adopted by Pepsi.

"We had launched big flavor extensions, but new launches weren't incremental," Ms. Mangelsdorf said. "They didn't have any real staying power." Max, on the other hand, satisfies an unmet need, she said. "Consumers weren't getting the invigoration they wanted from cola."

The brand is targeted to desk jockeys battling the midday blahs -- adults ages 25 to 34, and chiefly men shifting out of colas into diets. The "invigorating" cola contains ginseng and 46 milligrams of caffeine per eight ounces, double that of regular Diet Pepsi but a third the stimulant level in coffee or energy drinks.

Fighting yawns
Pepsi will communicate those benefits in the "Wake up, people!" campaign from Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, that breaks today. The humorous push positions Diet Pepsi Max as the antidote for the contagious yawn that can interrupt life's key moments -- such as a wedding or a job interview -- with media including TV, radio, out of home, internet and sampling.

In order to "own the yawn," particularly with men, most of the TV effort will run during National Football League programming, with most of the media weight in the back half of the year. The campaign will tie into the seventh-inning stretch in Major League Baseball.

The effort includes a digital plan with ad banks on Yahoo, Facebook and other sites, as well as a dedicated website at pepsimax.com and wakeuppeople.com. "This is the most comprehensive digital launch plan that we've done because this 'stop the yawn' area is so fertile," Ms. Mangelsdorf said. Websites feature a yawn-a-thon that spoofs telethons; visitors can "donate" their yawns by uploading photos to the site. Visitors also can send friends a wake-up call from comedian Ben Stein. Omnicom's Tribal DDB, Dallas, handled.

Ms. Mangelsdorf wouldn't confirm the amount invested to support the brand but said Pepsi is giving the brand two to three times the support of other recent launches.

Huge outlay
Pepsi in the past has allocated between $10 million and $12 million for new brands, which means it could spend $30 million to $35 million to launch Diet Pepsi Max. The marketer spent a total of $18.8 million on the launch of Diet Pepsi Jazz in 2006, which, if tripled, would put the estimated outlay for Max at upward of $55 million for the full year.

Because the beverage kings have supported brands at launch but stopped advertising past the first month or so, many recent introductions have fizzled. Among cola launches, only Coca-Cola Co.'s Coke Zero maintained its initial trial volume and continued to grow. "Doing line extensions on a more selected basis and staying strongly behind them for a longer time is both smart of Pepsi and is also going to help the overall category," said John Sicher, publisher-editor of Beverage Digest.

Of a dozen brands launched in recent years, only two, Sierra Mist and Diet Sierra Mist, maintained volume in 2006 that equaled their peak, according to a Morgan Stanley analysis of Beverage Digest data. For Coke, only Coke Zero maintained its peak volume, and Diet Barq's achieved 90% of its peak.

Coke Zero set a high bar for Max. The brand launched in May 2005, jumping to a 0.9% share and holding steady until two years later, when it hit 1.6% in May and leveled off to 1.5%.
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