SEISMIC SHIFT: COKE SETS RETURN TO CLASSIC LINEUP COLA KING TO TAP MCCANN, BURNETT FOR FLAGSHIP BRAND

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Six years after Coca-Cola Co.'s high-profile defection to Hollywood, the megamarketer is poised for a return to Madison Avenue.

The world's largest soft-drink marketer is close to shifting duties on its $1.6 billion worldwide ad account. And roster agencies McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, and Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, are set to gain assignments on the core Coca-Cola Classic brand.

EDGE TO STAY ON ROSTER

Current lead shop Edge Creative, Santa Monica, Calif., is expected to remain on the roster, although its new role is unclear, according to several executives close to the situation. In fact, Edge presented new creative work to the marketer within the past two weeks and is awaiting approval to begin production.

Coca-Cola declined comment on the shifts; its agencies referred calls to the marketer. But those close to the situation say the move is imminent. The shift has dragged out for more than a month, stalled in part by the beverage giant's recent product-safety scare in Europe, said executives close to the company.

MCCANN ENLISTS FREE-LANCERS

McCann is said to have hired a passel of free-lancers to help on its global pitch. Staffers spent the July Fourth weekend preparing for a big presentation scheduled for last week, only to have Coca-Cola executives cancel at the last minute.

Still, the weekend work may not have been for naught; at least one executive familiar with the account said McCann will get more work than Burnett. Just last month, McCann presented a consumer research project to Coca-Cola's global brand managers at its Atlanta headquarters.

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola asked McCann, Burnett and D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, to pitch ideas for its flagship brand (AA, Feb. 8). D'Arcy is said to be out of the running for new brand assignments, but Coca-Cola is still considering some ideas the shop presented.

2 DOZEN SHOPS ON ROSTER

Burnett, D'Arcy and McCann are just three of two-dozen roster shops that handle creative projects for Coca-Cola's 160 brands. Burnett currently handles advertising for Surge, Fruitopia, Minute Maid and U.S. Hispanic work for Classic and Sprite.

In 1993, the marketer shifted Coca-Cola Classic duties from McCann to talent shop Creative Artists Agency, which later spun off Edge Creative to handle the work. McCann retained media buying, but lost all creative in what many in the industry saw as a slap in the face. Since then, McCann has lusted for the chance to grab back the business.

Still, industry insiders insist the changes will not be radical.

"You'll see less change than you think. Everyone thought that with Sergio [Zyman] gone, everything would shift back to McCann," but that hasn't happened, said one executive with knowledge of the moves. Mr. Zyman was chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola until his departure last year.

HEY, BIG SPENDER

Coca-Cola Classic, the country's top-selling soda, is one of the most glamorous consumer products accounts-and one of the biggest spending. U.S. media spending for 1998 was $155 million, compared with $82.7 million for No. 2 Pepsi-Cola, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Madison Avenue has predicted sweeping changes in Coca-Cola's agency assignments since Charles Frenette's appointment as chief marketing officer 16 months ago. But those changes are happening gradually.

Mr. Frenette, who rose through the ranks on the operations side of the business, favors increased local marketing. It's unclear whether that means he wants to shift from big national ad campaigns in favor of more targeted, local initiatives.

ROSTER REMAINS STABLE

Since his appointment to the top marketing post, the company hasn't dropped any agencies from its unusually long roster. In its biggest move until now, Coca-Cola shifted creative duties for Diet Coke to Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., from Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York. Lowe had handled Diet Coke, the No. 3 U.S. soft-drink brand, since 1993.

The "Always Coca-Cola" campaign was launched in 1993, and speculation has fizzed over the past year that it would be canned by the new marketing leadership in Atlanta. This spring, Coca-Cola launched seven new "Always" spots from Edge. One shows a broken Humpty-Dumpty putting himself together again after a swig of Coca-Cola.

PEPSI ON THE OFFENSIVE

The changes come just months after archrival Pepsi-Cola Co.'s launch of its new "Joy of cola" campaign from BBDO Worldwide, New York. Those ads are being credited by beverage industry observers for lifting sales for Pepsi this spring.

The heat is on at Coca-Cola as Pepsi enjoys its strong showing. In the five weeks ended May 16, Pepsi-Cola sales rose 0.7% while Coca-Cola Classic sales fell 2.1%, according to Information Resources Inc.

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