Cola giants' color war leaves media and public thirsty for more

The cola wars are heating up again as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo branch out into new flavors in an effort to attract new customers.

The cola wars are heating up again as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo branch out into new flavors in an effort to attract new customers. As NBC's Today show (May 8) put it, "Two of the world's best-known brands (are) thirsting for the hearts and dollars of billions of consumers.

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola launched Vanilla Coke; Pepsi, for its part, was seen as trying to upstage its rival when it made a sudden announcement, the day before Vanilla Coke went on sale, that it will launch a new berry-flavored cola late this summer.

Vanilla Coke was launched on May 8, the 116th anniversary of the Coca-Cola company, and is being promoted as tasting like a cream soda. Early reports suggest that the product is similar to regular Coke - only with a vanilla aftertaste. Coke's hometown paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 7), reported that Coke's "publicity machine is revving up ... its buzz-building effort

and preliminary indications are that "the publicity surrounding the introduction of Vanilla Coke has been a dream come true for the Atlanta beverage giant."

Indeed, in the coverage analyzed by Media Watch, there were far more reports of consumers who liked Vanilla Coke than those who disliked it.

However, a few reports did bring up the ghost of the company's nightmarish launch of New Coke in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the entry of Pepsi Blue into the soda wars was described as a much more daring move and further removed from the traditional look and taste of a cola beverage. It is colored bright blue and is being billed as tasting like a berry-cola fusion.

In covering the two stories, reporters recognized a common denominator in the efforts of the two companies. Both companies were seen as ratcheting up their efforts to increase sales among teenagers, which USA Today (May 8) called "a critical consumer for the $67.1 billion soft-drink category."

Several reports indicated that soft-drink sales have suffered in recent years as teens have sought "new-age

drinks rather than traditional colas.

Media coverage also identified a common strategy being used by both companies in aiming to increase sales. Both are actively promoting new brands that are spin-offs of existing ones. The Today show (May 8) explained, "The idea of brand extension is simple. Create a little buzz and maybe, just maybe, catch lightning in a bottle."

In the eyes of The Wall Street Journal (May 7), brand extensions, also known as line extensions, "amount to smart marketing.

The newspaper cited such recent successes as Pepsi Twist, Diet Coke with Lemon, and Cherry Coke. But the biggest praise was reserved for Pepsi's Code Red, which was released a year ago. In the same article, WSJ called Code Red "the most successful soft-drink introduction in years."

In fact, Pepsi indicated that its Pepsi Blue announcement was more of an effort to capitalize on the success of Code Red than a response to Vanilla Coke. There were numerous reports suggesting that Pepsi wants to emulate the success of Code Red with its latest offering. It was further noted that Pepsi would adopt the same low-key, phased-in marketing approach for Pepsi Blue that it used with Code Red, allowing the drink to catch on through word of mouth.

The media coverage did not predict whether Pepsi Blue or Vanilla Coke would end up as the more popular drink, but when these two giants go head-to-head with all of their marketing muscle, it will undoubtedly be a battle worth watching.

Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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