$50 million push: Predictions mixed for Coke's C2

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Despite an impressive product push-Coca-Cola's largest and most lavish splash since the launch of Diet Coke 22 years ago-observers are split whether the company can build incremental sales from its half-sugared C2.

Credit the glitzy $30 million to $50 million marketing and publicity barrage kicked off May 24 for winning over at least some skeptics among industry observers and Wall Street analysts.

"We were extremely impressed with the breadth and depth of the company's marketing plan," said Bonnie Herzog, beverage analyst with Citigroup's Smith Barney. "We cannot underestimate the effect marketing will have on this new product."

At the May 24 press event in Los Angeles, "American Idol" stars Paula Abdul and Ryan Seacrest joined Coke executives to reveal its integrated-marketing campaign that broke on the Fox network talent show's May 25 and 26th finals.

Street teams passed out about 12 million samples in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami. And in addition to exposing millions of "Idol" viewers to the spots and running radio, Coca-Cola is splashing the C2 graphic on out of home, cinema, Internet ads and in-store merchandising. On June 13, Coke plans a 37-network roadblock for the C2 spots to appear in the 9 p.m. viewing slot. WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, handles.

Coca-Cola executives told analysts the effort would achieve 900 million-plus impressions in the first 30 days alone.

With its media offensive, Coke beat Pepsi Edge, which hits stores in June with ads coming later in the summer. For both companies, success could break the string of failed attempts to create a significant mid-calorie segment (remember Pepsi Max and Pepsi One?) and give them one more product to stem the six-year decline of carbonated sodas.

As was with last year's vanilla-cola war, Coke will do the heavy lifting in building awareness for mid-calorie colas. That could prove helpful for Pepsi, which can use its marketing efforts to tout its comparative benefits to Coke's version, according to an insider in the Blue system.

Though Coca-Cola predicted sales would top 100 million cases in the U.S., observers are still not sold that a 70-calorie soda will persuade consumers to trade up from diets or down from full-sugar.

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