RC COLA BETS '99 AD FUNDS ON TIE-IN WITH FOX'S 'HILL': PROMOTION WITH ANIMATED SERIES LINKS DECLINING BRAND WITH HERO

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In the cola wars, appearances matter.

That's why Royal Crown Co. has decided to bet most of its 1999 TV advertising for RC Cola on one short-term promotion, a link with Fox's "King of the Hill."

The marketer has created two 15-second spots for its struggling soda using characters from the popular animated series. They will run on network TV and cable, and in 35 spot markets, starting next week.

The ads are part of a watch-and-win promotion, dubbed the "American Dream Sweepstakes," that culminates May 18 on "King of the Hill's" season finale.

RC will devote about $3 million in media spending to the promotion, said Scott Munz, director of media. Extensive local radio also will be used, including another contest in which listeners have to mow "RC" into their lawns.

'PLAYING IN THE BIG LEAGUES'

With the Fox tie-in, the 17th-ranked soft drink will be perceived as playing in the big leagues, said Jimmy Verrett, director of creative marketing for Royal Crown, a division of Triarc Beverage Group.

"To be a major cola, you have to advertise on television," he said. "You have to have some sort of superstar endorser in some way, shape or form, and have sponsorship activities. We're doing that a little bit in our own way. It is very important for RC to have the appearance of a brand that may be larger than it is."

FALLING VOLUME

RC's volume fell 17.7% in 1998, dropping its rank in the $56.3 billion U.S. soft-drink business from the No. 14 spot, according to Beverage Digest.

The new commercials, from the Blum Group, New York, were animated by "King of the Hill's" creative team. The first shows Hank Hill swigging an RC as he rides a John Deere tractor.

"Our drinker is Hank Hill," said agency President Alan Blum. "Our customer is the same person who watches 'King of the Hill'."

While RC declined to reveal how much it paid for the tie-in, Mr. Verrett quipped: "It's considerably less than what Pepsi paid LucasFilms."

His reference was to the No. 2 cola's link to the upcoming, highly anticipated new "Star Wars" film.

Fox press materials said the sweepstakes will be backed by a $20 million marketing campaign, including $6 million in media spending on TV, radio and print advertising. National print ads will appear in TV Guide for three weeks starting May 1.

The sweepstakes includes the chance to win a $100,000 cash prize as well as instant-win prizes via RC multipacks and on 2-liter bottles. Packaging will feature logos and characters from the show.

The answer to the grand prize question will be revealed on the show's season finale.

The question: Where did Hank and Peggy Hill dream of traveling by train in the

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