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The ad campaign for Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite is witty, irreverent and meant to make you think you're actually listening or watching something else entirely. And that's the point.

Sprite, the fastest-growing U.S. soft drink in the last couple of years, in mid-1997 took its irreverent "Image is nothing, obey your thirst" slogan one step further.

Under new VP-Worldwide Advertising Ian Rowden, the brand has managed to stay in lockstep with its target audience-teen-agers. Mr. Rowden, with a keen eye toward keeping the campaign directly on target, brings a sense of breeziness and zaniness to Sprite that makes the campaign seem as though it was hatched only yesterday.

One ad advises people heading for Hollywood to bring their own Sprite because "a place this concerned with image just doesn't serve any"; "The Big Load" takes on detergent ads, while radio spots feature hip rockers promising only that you must trust in your instinct to obey your thirst-drink Sprite. The ads are created by Lowe & Partners/SMS, a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos., New York.

"The strategy has remained consistent for Sprite, and within that format, it's given us a lot of flexibility to keep its edge, its energy and its straightforward, `Obey your thirst' tagline," says Mr. Rowden.

"The approach is that we're not talking down to our audience. We know teens are smart enough, savvy enough . . . We know that they know we're selling them on a product that will quench their thirst."

This is Mr. Rowden's second tour of duty with Coca-Cola. A native of Sydney, he first joined the company's Australian subsidiary in 1980, working in various marketing positions in the South Pacific region. In 1990, he joined DDB Needham Worldwide as director and managing partner of the Sydney, Australia office.

Sprite is one of the fast-growing soft drinks globally, experiencing double-digit growth over the last four years; in 1997, Sprite's global volume increased by 13%, while U.S. volume increased 10%. It's the third-largest brand in the world (behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi) and the fifth-largest brand in the U.S. (behind Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Diet Coke and Mountain Dew).

"There's still plenty of growth potential in the campaign," he claims.

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