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In the u.s. marketplace, No. 2 players aren't just trying harder these days. Some are taking the lead and setting the direction, and there's a lesson here in their consistency of execution and brand building. General Mills appears set to take the crown from No. 1 cereal marketer Kellogg Co. Bud Light, which long ago surpassed Miller Lite, is on tap to displace its own parent brew, Budweiser, as the King of Beers in supermarket sales. For the first time since 1939, Lincoln outsold Cadillac in model year 1998.

Big G, poised to displace Kellogg in dollar share, is winning through focused and consistent management of its brand stable. Meanwhile, Kellogg's snap, crackle and pop has turned to mush. Bud Light, beating Bud with more appeal to young drinkers and women, is winning through strong, consistent advertising. Through several campaigns, the clear sound has always been a call to sales action: "Give me a Light" and, then, "Make it a Bud Light."

Lincoln, meanwhile, beat its General Motors Corp. rival to the market with an SUV luxo-tank, and the brand is reaping the rewards. One of the Lincoln Navigator's strongest points: It manages to look like a Lincoln even if it's just a rebadged Ford. (If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, figure that it's a Cadillac Catera, not a Lincoln.)

It's good to see these No. 2's on the road to No. 1 status, for it demonstrates that smart marketing can pay off. No brand, no matter how long it has ruled the roost, gets perpetual rights to leadership. Any marketer or brand can be toppled -- a fact that creates a challenge for No. 2 and a challenge to No. 1.

We're reminded of a No. 1 brand, Intel, that looked vulnerable in 1998. Intel initially missed the explosive market for cheap chips in below-$1,000 PCs. But it quickly reacted, unleashing a powerful line of low-cost Celeron chips last year, and now it looks to be on track to take back lost market share.

For the managers of No. 2 players in other markets, consider this: The top spot is up for grabs. For those at No. 1, always remember: It's best not to make assumptions about that perennial lead. Act, and react. As Intel Chairman Andrew Grove often says: "Only the paranoid survive."

Sell locally

National marketers and nationwide marketing are hallmarks of the U.S. economy. But the wise national marketer knows that catering to local market differences pays off. Ford Motor Co. and J.C. Penney Co., as we reported last week, are wagering that will be so with new campaigns that target Asian-Americans in California -- and they're making a smart bet.

In its case, Ford created ads specifically for Asian subgroups -- Chinese, Korean and Filipino -- with TV and newspaper ads in each group's language and with actors drawn from those nationality groups. The Asian-languages ads will appear in Asian-languages TV and newspapers and will be tied with event marketing.

This ethnic and cultural approach makes particular sense -- and creates a point of difference -- for retail operations. Modern market research permits the tailoring of merchandising and marketing for a business's local clientele. But this logic also applies equally strongly to marketers whose local "presence" may simply be a slot on a store shelf.

Is it more costly and complicated? Perhaps. Marketing in a one-big-market world where one-ad-fits-all would certainly be easier and more "efficient." But in today's and tomorrow's America, such multicultural marketing will be as American