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Virgin Cola USA isn't ready to admit defeat. But it's ready to "say something" else.

One year after the U.S. launch of publicity-savvy Richard Branson's upstart cola, the company plans to change its battle tactics amid lackluster sales.

The marketer, a division of Virgin Group, which also operates Virgin Atlantic Airways, will roll out new packaging for the soda this summer, along with a new advertising strategy.

Out is the $2 million TV campaign from agency Ground Zero, Marina del Rey, Calif., that featured people atop a soapbox spouting their views on a number of topics. One ad featured a male couple kissing after exchanging wedding vows; another showed a cursing, elderly librarian.

Now Virgin, with limited distribution in about nine markets, will be promoted with grass-roots tactics rather than traditional media, a spokesman said. He declined to provide specifics.

The cola won't be linked to the airline's sponsorship of the upcoming movie "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" (AA, May 10).

Ground Zero remains Virgin Cola's U.S. agency, and also is working on an update of its Internet site (, being relaunched this summer.


The current Virgin cans feature black, white and red graphics reminiscent of Coca-Cola's trademark red, and feature pictures of Virgin Cola drinkers along with their names, the date they switched brands to Virgin and a few words detailing their personal views. New cans will be more vibrant, and more in keeping with the soda's graphics in other countries, the spokesman said.

Virgin Cola made its debut in the U.K. in 1994, and has had a tough time in the U.S. While the privately held company does not disclose sales, industry observers said the brand has not taken hold. It's virtually impossible to win any battles against giants Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co. because of their stronghold on distribution and brand awareness.

The most Virgin can gain, said Gary Hemphill, VP-information services for consultancy Beverage Marketing Corp., is a place as an alternative No. 3 cola brand. That's a position now held by Triarc Beverage Corp.'s ailing RC Cola, the 17th-ranked U.S. soda brand, according to Beverage Digest.

"Virgin has to find a reason for being in the U.S. . . . It's got to find its legs. Branson is a pretty creative guy and he knows how to get some publicity.

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