RC HOOK A WINNER WHEN IT GOES FISHING FOR SOME INDIVIDUALITY

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It's nice to be No. 1. No. 2, well, No. 2 tries harder.

No. 3 is pitiful.

No. 3 is an also ran, footnote, odd man out. It is John Anderson, LaToya Jackson, Arsenio. It is to be eternally verging and never arrived. It is forever being Miss Congeniality. No. 3 is all about going for the bronze.

But it's a damn sight better than No. 4 and it's also an opportunity-an opportunity to bask in non-number-oneness.

It would be impossible to catalog all the brands that, languishing in third place, or fourth, or ninth, or even a distant second, have set themselves up as the iconoclast's choice: Camel filters, Dr Pepper, Subaru, Levi's 501 jeans, Converse, Eagle Vision, even Reebok (remember U.B.U?). Call it the mass marketing of individuality.

But in the different drummer sweepstakes, none has banged more persistently than RC, doomed forever to be the No. 3 name in colas. With limited distribution and media budget, RC has continually reminded us that it is a breed apart for a breed apart. This strategy, from RC agency after RC agency, has yielded some intermittently interesting advertising. The latest effort, however, is an instant classic of the genre. It comes from GSD&M, Austin, Texas. Titled "Fish-o-Rama," it is outrageously, subversively wonderful.

The spot opens at a marina, where two cabin cruisers full of tournament anglers shove off to the accompaniment of Grieg's "Peer Gynt" suite. On one boat, the Coke team. On the other, Pepsi's. Aboard the Coke boat, one of the fishermen shoves his fist in the cooler, removes a can of the pause that refreshes and ... connects it to his fishing line? Yes, by the pull tab, like a bait, and he casts it into the ocean. The Pepsi boat does the same with its can.

"For years," chimes in the voice-over, "you've been fed the same old line: only two great tasting colas to choose from."

Now one of the Coke team, his nose whitened with zinc ointment, turns to the camera and shouts, "OK, a fish on!" And a Pepsi crewman, with an identically white nose, also shouts, "Fish on!" What follows is bizarre, hilarious and not a little bit disturbing, as you realize the giant leaping "fish" are actually people. That is, consumers. That is, Coke and Pepsi drinkers, reeled in, netted and flopped onto the deck like mindless, chum-gorging trophies. Sure enough, there on the deck they lie, alive but dazed and stupid looking.

"Hey," the voice-over says, "you don't have to swallow that."

Meanwhile, back at the pier, a self-assured young man plugs an RC vending machine and grabs a No. 3. As the wet and winded catch are displayed, hanging upside down, on the dock, the voice-over concludes, "Drink RC and you'll look at colas in a whole new way."

How could you not? Granted, the spot is violent, but it's a goofy, cartoonish, absurd sort of violence. Also inspired. Also inspiring-at least to those who would inwardly cheer if Miss Congeniality, a smile on her not-so-pretty face, socked the new Miss America right in the kisser.

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