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Congratulations to Pepsi-Cola for "belly-laughing" to the top of USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter ratings.

And for our own Bob Garfield's award of 31/2 stars to the humorous and well-targeted spots. All three commercials reinforced the slogan, "Nothing else is a Pepsi."

As good as the ads were, however, Pepsi's tagline has lurking within those five little words the seeds of its own destruction. If nothing else is a Pepsi, consumers will be hard-pressed to accept any new line extensions for the brand.

The slogan could become a self-fulfilling prophesy. That's apparently what happened in Florida test markets, where Pepsi recently stopped selling Pepsi XL. Not only did the cola drinkers in the Miami and Fort Myers areas not accept XL as a Pepsi, I have a feeling they didn't know what else it was either.

To be fair, a Pepsi PR guy told me the brand extension "exceeded expectations," but that the company will take what it learned from the XL test and apply it "to some of the big ideas we're working on for '96 and beyond." He added that the XL name "was not an issue at all" in ending the test.

You can't say we didn't try to warn the company. Back last March, when PepsiCo announced the test, we headlined our story: "Pepsi's XL an X-tra large mistake?" We quoted a Chicago agency Gen X-er, in between sips of a Diet Coke at a fast-food court, as saying the name was "a major miss, both in targeting the youth market and the health market."

XL was supposed to signify a cola midway between a diet and a full-flavored drink. The X was for excellent taste and the L was for 50% less sugar. Why that concept wasn't perfectly clear to Florida cola drinkers must have come as quite a surprise to the Pepsi troopers monitoring the test markets.

When we interviewed twentysomething people last March, though, they had it figured out. XL is "either a spreadsheet, a car or `Grunge Pepsi,'*" said one. "Extra large?" asked another. "It's gotta be high-octane, extra caffeine-like Jolt Cola."

There's lots at stake here. If Pepsi can get consumers to accept the idea of a mid-calorie drink it could have a big hit on its hands. Pepsi Max, a similar drink sold outside the U.S., is expected to become a $1 billion brand. Cola drinkers might be ready for something "less intense" than regular Pepsi, said a Diet Pepsi drinker in our survey.

I'm interested that the XL concept might fit into some of the "big ideas" Pepsi is working on in 1996 and beyond. The Pepsi PR man said XL got about 1% of the market during the test. On a national basis, that would translate into $123 million annual sales in the U.S. carbonated beverage market.

But to make sure consumers accept such "big ideas," especially when they are being warned that "Nothing else is a Pepsi," maybe Pepsi should print an asterisk after the slogan with an explanation in small type: "This disclaimer is not intended to exclude other Pepsi variations, which are also sold under trademark granted to PepsiCo Inc."

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