Cola wars splinter

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Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo are heading into the crucial summer soft-drink season without brand advertising for flagship soft drinks and instead focusing on flankers.

Unable to finalize a campaign for Coke Classic, Coca-Cola Co. is pushing Vanilla Coke, which launches next month, with a comprehensive ad effort slated for June. The company is working to create the effort with the help of at least five Interpublic Group of Cos. agencies, including McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York; Mullen, Wenham, Mass.; Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.; Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston; and Amster Yard, New York. The agencies couldn't be reached or declined to comment.

Coca-Cola has used blowout spring and summer campaigns for brand Coke, such as last year's "Life Tastes Good." New work was expected this season, but Jeff Dunn, Coca-Cola's president of the Americas, told analysts two weeks ago that "we're going to make sure [the ads] are right before we have what we call a formal launch."

Coke Classic will be supported with summer promotions, work tied to its sponsorship of soccer's World Cup and Nascar. Three ads aimed at African-Americans via Publicis Groupe-backed Burrell Communications, Chicago, and two at Hispanics, from Bcom3 Group's Lapiz, Chicago, will continue.


A Coca-Cola spokesman strongly disputed that the company is forsaking its flagship. "Coca-Cola is the lead brand for our involvement in the largest sporting event in the world, for our huge summer promotion, and we are introducing a new member to its family," he said.

The lack of a base brand campaign for Coke does not concern John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest. "Coke will have plenty of media presence around its promotions, its new products and Vanilla Coke," he said. Coming soon: regular and low-calorie Minute Maid pink lemonade and Dasani Nutriwater, as well as relaunched Fruitopia, Cherry Coke and Minute Maid orange soda. New Sprite advertising will roll out in late June-the first major effort from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

Archrival Pepsi-Cola Co., meanwhile, is concentrating on Diet Pepsi, which it relaunched in March, as well as lemon-flavored Pepsi Twist. A spokesman said brand Pepsi work breaks on the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards, with promotional pushes in the summer. This season's promotions will hitch the base brand to Britney Spears, Nascar driver Jeff Gordon and Major League Baseball's All Star Game. Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, handles Pepsi's carbonated soft drinks; sibling TLP, Wilton, Conn., handles promotions.

Flavors have carbonated soft drinks bubbling again. The category grew 4.7% in food, drug and mass merchandisers during the first quarter, according to Beverage Digest.

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