Colas suit up for summer

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The cola war was all about flavored line extensions last year, but in summer 2004 the focus is mainly on reviving fizzling flagships.

Coca-Cola Co. is expected to far outspend rival PepsiCo with an outlay upward of $50 million to $80 million over the May through September season alone to support Coca-Cola Classic, Diet Coke and its mid-calorie C2 introduction. PepsiCo will focus more on in-store merchandising for its PepsiEdge launch and its "Play for a Billion" program. Meanwhile, Cadbury Beverages Americas will fork out at least $20 million in the period to promote its Dr Pepper, 7 Up and Sunkist soft drinks, with half of that going to Dr Pepper.

"It's the hottest, most contentious time of the year," said Jim Trebilcock, Cadbury's senior VP-carbonated soft drinks. "If you miss it, it's very difficult to make it up."

While soft-drink executives contend that the stakes are no higher this year than any other summer, volume share for both Coca-Cola Classic and Pepsi-Cola each fell 0.7 share points in 2003, according to Beverage Digest. PepsiCo's Mountain Dew share slipped 0.1 share points and Coca-Cola's Sprite lost 0.3. Dr Pepper dropped 0.2 points and 7 Up was down 0.5 in share.

Volume declines appear to be gaining momentum, according to Bonnie Herzog, beverage analyst for Citigroup Smith Barney, who polled retailers on their pre-summer beverage season. Her study showed that carbonated soft-drink volumes fell 0.5% on average this year compared to last year while pre-summer volume for non-carbonated drinks grew 8.3% and bottled water grew 10.4%.

For its Classic trademark, Coca-Cola will launch as many as five new executions of its "Real" campaign under the theme "Endless Summer." The teen-oriented narrative campaign uses grainy, home video-like footage as it chronicles teens in summer activities, including looking for a summer job, flirting with a surfer girl on the beach, and on a road trip.

Based on insights about teens and what's authentic to them, "We wanted to be energetic and active, quite frankly, because we know when we drive that, it increases purchase intent," said Greg Price, VP-brand integration for Coca-Cola North America. He downplayed the stakes for this summer's cola war and said the spending on the Real campaign won't change much from last year.

The Atlanta-based beverage giant also launched its Unexpected Summer promotion for Coke Classic, using a global positioning system to identify and award the winning can holder a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox (AA, Oct. 13).

Red Cell effort

Other Coca-Cola plans include a TV, print, out of home and interactive campaign via WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, for C2. The effort will show how consumers don't have to compromise taste to have half the sugar. The "lifetime vignette" campaign won't have a tagline, but will use rotating voice-overs to play up each situation in the executions, said executives close to the production.

To take advantage of the ratings bonanza attached to the "American Idol" finals on Fox May 25-26, Coke is planning to make the debut of C2 on that program, said executives close to the situation. Mr. Price said only that it's under consideration.

For its part, Pepsi is bringing back its "Play for a Billion" game show (AA, Oct. 6) with advertising supporting the show featuring comic Damon Wayans. Since half-the-sugar Pepsi Edge will have a two-phased rollout with single serve and six packs in June and larger packages in July, advertising won't break until later in the summer. Other Pepsi summer campaigns include a continuing baseball-theme spot from Omnicom Group's Dieste Harmel & Partners, Dallas, "Dew U" spots from Omnicom's BBDO Worldwide, New York, and a limited offer for an orange version of Mountain Dew called Live Wire.

Third-ranked Cadbury will push Dr Pepper with a $10 million promotion-double last year's outlay-tied to Sony's much-anticipated "Spider-Man 2", which opens June 30. Targeted to 20-something consumers, Dr Pepper's promotion gives a chance to win one of 10 Dodge Vipers if consumers open a winning talking can. Other collectible cans have codes inside where the consumer looks through Spider-Man's eye to view the winning code. A TV spot via WPP's Y&R Advertising, New York, breaks today backing the promotion, which is handled by Square One, Dallas.

Cadbury also is promoting its Sunkist brand with a $5 million promotion called "Charged Experiences" to run through August. Aimed at teens 15 to 17, the effort provides chances to win experiences from surfing lessons from a pro in Hawaii to shadowing a Hollywood director. While Cadbury conducts an advertising review for its 7 Up brand, it's also running a summer promotion for the brand tied to eBay called "Win Anything, Go Anywhere." Consumers receive codes from 12-packs to acquire "anytime points" for bidding on the online auction site. A $5 million ad effort includes TV tags on existing spots from Y&R, online ads on eBay and local radio. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Zipatoni, Chicago, handled.

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