PEPSI'S XL AN X-TRA LARGE MISTAKE?

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Memo to Pepsi: Your new mid-calorie cola, Pepsi XL, intrigues target audience Generation X. But can the name.

"The name is a major miss, both in terms of targeting the youth market and the health market," declared Chicago agency Xer Steve Klink in between sips of Coke at a fast-food court.

Other Xers interviewed by Advertising Age agreed. "It's either a spreadsheet, a car or `Grunge Pepsi,'*" said one. "Extra large?" asked another. "Pepsi XL: It's gotta be high-octane, extra-caffeine-like Jolt cola."

But when it comes to your positioning of XL ("X" for excellent taste, "L" for 50% less sugar), you could have a hit. Not only Xers but thirtysomethings and beyond respond well to the notion of an artful compromise between hard-core calorie-conscious Diet Pepsi and Pepsi.

There's room in the soft-drink category for a cola with just 70 calories and 50% less sugar than regular soft drinks. Listen to Hilary Fleishchaker, an assistant account exec on Jel-Sert and Wrigley at BBDO, Chicago: "I've been drinking Diet Pepsi, and when I drink regular Pepsi it's too sweet. Diet cola drinkers might go for something less intense."

The risk of a mid-range positioning of XL, of course, is cannibalization in both directions. But soft-drink analysts note that your Pepsi Max, a similar drink, is faring well abroad where it is expected to become a $1 billion brand. The analysts add that in 1994, sugar-free Pepsi Max, now sold in Canada and Europe, generated more than $250 million in retail sales overseas.

But they also note that Pepsi XL will be your third run at the U.S. mid-calorie range in as many decades: In 1977 came 70-calorie Pepsi Light and, 10 years later, 15-calorie Jake's. And we won't even talk about your other recent new-product soft landing, Crystal Pepsi.

It will be interesting to watch your test activity in Florida cities-including Miami, Tampa, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Good luck.

Contributing to this story: Jeffery D. Zbar, Pat Sloan, Kim Cleland and Todd Pruzan.

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