Pepsi Takes Fresh Angle In New Ad Effort

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Pepsi-Cola Co. is risking raising the specter of last summer's Diet Pepsi tampering hoax in a new effort to position the product as more pristine than its competitors.

The No. 2 soft-drink marketer is moving ahead with an aggressively advertised freshness dating program that employs easy-to-read expiration dates.

Freshness dating, tested since last year in Omaha, will eventually appear on all Pepsi-Cola beverages.

The move comes despite other marketers' insistence that soft-drink freshness isn't an issue of concern to consumers, and their consternation that Pepsi will throw doubt on the quality of all soft drinks.

"It opens up a can of worms," said Rick Hill, VP-national marketing for Barq's. "Right now, [consumers] don't have a concept that this stuff can go bad."

Aspartame, the sugar substitute used in most diet soft drinks, does lose its sweetness after 12 to 14 weeks. Sugared soft drinks have a longer, but not indefinite, shelf life.

Pepsi is confident that 95% of shoppers do put credence in "best if used by" dates. So much so that Pepsi-Cola North America President-CEO Craig Weatherup-the man consumers know only as the company's spokesman during the Diet Pepsi contamination scare-stars in the freshness dating rollout.

"Our take on last summer watching [Mr. Weatherup] in action is that he came across just right," Senior VP-Brand Development Jeff Campbell told Advertising Age.

Pepsi will spend $20 million to $30 million on media advertising and point-of-purchase materials to introduce freshness dating over the next eight weeks. The campaign broke March 30.

Mr. Weatherup appears in three of the five new TV spots. He points out how a new graphic on Diet Pepsi cans, and the easily read date stamped on can bottoms, are consumers' guarantee they will taste Diet Pepsi at its peak flavor.

All soft-drink packages carry some date code, traditionally unreadable by consumers.

The campaign from BBDO Worldwide, New York, uses the tagline "Freshness dating. It will change the way you look at soft drinks."

To further promote freshness dating, Pepsi is also using what proved to be its most effective weapon in battling the tampering claims against Diet Pepsi: a video news release.

"Consumers want and need to know more about the products they eat and drink. We're giving them an important new piece of information," Mr. Weatherup said at a splashy New York news conference to unveil the campaign. He admitted the company is counting on the federal Nutrition Labeling & Education Act, effective May 8, to increase consumer interest in food and beverage information.

"We expect to change the industry ... we expect others to follow suit," Mr. Weatherup said.

"We don't have any plans to do that," countered a Coca-Cola Co. spokesman, calling freshness a "non-issue" for consumers.

Still, the No. 1 cola earlier this year began hedging its bets with the slow, national rollout of a readable date code on all its packages.

Pepsi's taste-oriented campaign hits Coca-Cola as the leader has dropped all mention of taste from the advertising for Diet Coke.

Ad budgets for Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi declined significantly last year, while both were under increasing competitive pressure from New Age beverages. Both brands' share declined slightly during 1993, with Diet Coke dropping to 8.9% and Diet Pepsi falling back to 5.8% of the $49.1 billion carbonated soft-drink market, according to Beverage Digest.

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