Pepsi's Edge, Coke's C2 get flat reception

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Soft-drink watchers and some retailers are already viewing Coca-Cola's C2 and Pepsi-Cola's Edge mid-calorie sodas as a bad idea. But even so, it looks like Pepsi has the edge.

"These companies are selling the same product. What are they doing to differentiate themselves?" asked Tom Pirko, president of consultant BevMark. "They're virtually indistinguishable."

Both target with similar taglines the 60 million consumers-especially diet-phobic men-who loathe the artificial aftertaste of diet drinks but want to tame their waistlines. C2 uses a straightforward tag: "Half the carbs. Half the cals. All the great taste" and its TV spots, from WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, use the Rolling Stone's "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

Pepsi's pitch is "With full flavor and 50% less sugar and carbs, why not?" New spots from Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, follow men completing a task while sportscasters Stuart Scott of ESPN's Sports Center and Rich Eisen of the NFL Network give enthusiastic play-by-plays. Print executions congratulate people for mundane activities like wearing socks. The effort carries a reward theme: "This moment deserves a Pepsi Edge."

Pepsi executives said the brand has a male to female ratio of 55 to 45, which is virtually even. However, since men are more turned off by female-focused ads than vice versa, the spots target men and will get heavy rotation in the Pepsi 400 Nascar race and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Where the two part company is sweeteners. Pepsi Edge relies heavily on sucralose (Splenda), the darling of the Atkins and South Beach diet crowd, while C2's four-sweetener combo has a mere touch of sucralose.

It's a brand benefit for the carb-crazed. Already, Pepsi has one print ad schedule to run in Cooking Light that includes a Splenda logo. "We're considering the possibility of dialing that up in the future," said a spokesman. "Stay tuned."

tread carefully

Mr. Pirko doubts it will work. "Anybody on those [diets] is not going to drink a carbonated soft drink that has 70 calories," he said. "They are going to drink one with zero calories." Pepsi must also tread carefully not to cast aspersion on aspartame-sweetened sibling Diet Pepsi.

It may, however, give Pepsi a differentiating point. Retailers say Coke's C2 isn't exactly flying off shelves, despite a $50 million-plus marketing extravaganza, although executives close to Coca-Cola said it's a huge success.

"C2 is at more than 90% availability and it is very, very early," said a Coke spokesman. "We're very pleased at where the launch is going."

John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, however, said it's far too early to judge either product's progress.

"There's a lot to accomplish," said Kevin Keller, professor of marketing at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. "It will take time for [Pepsi Edge] to get [its message] across. Having a really clear target and position is critical."

Skeptical observers also point to the failure of PepsiOne. But Pepsi said it's learned its lesson.

"PepsiOne advertising was slightly overwhelmed by the celebrity and the creativity, and the message may have gotten lost," said the spokesman. "[Pepsi Edge] ads are much more focused on what the product is," he said, "with a bit of entertainment and Pepsi spirit."

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