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SPRITE IS RIDING GLOBAL AD EFFORT TO NO. 4 STATUS;SIMPLE CONCEPT THAT LAMPOONS HYPE STRIKES CHORD WITH KIDS ALL OVER WORLD

By Published on .

Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite soft drink will pass Fanta as the No. 4 brand in the world this year, with volume up about 35% from three years ago. Its dramatic success underscores one of the foremost tenets of marketing: Find an idea that is a language of its own.

"Image is nothing. Thirst is everything. Obey your thirst." Advertising sporting that tagline-and spoofing the hype and conventions commonly found in today's advertising-has helped turn Sprite into a global superbrand.

`INCREDIBLY RELEVANT'

"The meaning of [Sprite] and what we stand for is exactly the same globally. Teens tell us it's incredibly relevant in nearly every market we go into," said Charlotte Oades, director of brand marketing on Sprite.

Coca-Cola Co. now markets the brand in 119 countries using the same campaign.

"[Sprite] has clued into some powerful stuff," said consumer guru Myra Stark, senior VP-director of knowledge management at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York. "This campaign is tapping into teen-agers' rebelliousness and their desire to form their own identity."

Created by Lowe & Partners/

SMS, New York, the campaign uses traditional ad material such as a sports tie-in (sponsorship of the National Basketball Association) and celebrity endorsers (NBA star Grant Hill). But it uses them satirically.

GRANT HILL ADS

In one Grant Hill ad, boys on a playground muse on the significance of their heroes drinking Sprite. Concludes the wisest: "I heard Grant Hill drinks it when he gets thirsty."

Many ads run virtually worldwide; others are tailored locally to mesh with local culture. All share the basic themes of self-reliance and trusting one's instincts.

In China, the campaign works but has to be communicated with a softer edge, Ms. Oades said.

"You can't be as irreverent in China, because it's not acceptable in that society. It's all about being relevant" to the specific audience, she said.

Until a few years ago, Sprite was a moderately relevant brand that had achieved marketing hits and misses. Riding the back of Coca-Cola's distribution prowess, it passed 7UP as the lemon-lime leader in 1993.

Then the brand's marketing team and Lowe hunkered down to develop a powerful brand positioning.

The campaign that resulted quick-ly showed results in the U.S.

Next Lowe and Coca-Cola conducted a global teen-ager study, said Lee Gar-finkel, Lowe chairman-chief creative officer.

TEENS SIMILAR WORLDWIDE

"We found there are some cultural differences in different countries, but there is a global similarity to kids today," he noted.

Understanding teens is one piece of the puzzle, other teen marketing experts agreed. But the success of the Sprite campaign seems to be how it communicates that understanding.

"Teens [are] fed up with the hype and the empty promises. Advertising that makes fun of advertising-that's something that works well," said Paul Wolfe, exec VP-exec creative director on the Levi Strauss & Co. account at Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco.

"We talk directly to teens. We don't talk down to them," Ms. Oades said.

OTHER BRANDS REACHING TEENS

Obviously, Sprite isn't the first brand to find success talk-ing in teens' language. Others, in-cluding PepsiCola Co.'s Moun-tain Dew and the MTV cable network, have built big brands from scratch by striking a chord with kids. But many have tried and failed.

A high-energy ad campaign did little to build Cherry Coke's cachet with teens a couple of years ago. And Burger King Corp. has gone through a string of hopefully hip campaigns that failed to achieve business gains with teens.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of Sprite's success is the campaign's simplicity-an uncomplicated idea crosses cultural and geographic borders better.

"We tapped into a real true concept. This is pretty straightforward stuff," Mr. Garfinkel said.

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