It’s B-A-A-Ack!! – Brief Article

Theresa Howard

At a time when Pepsi-Cola is flagging a cast of celebrity endorsers joining its “Joy of Cola” brigade, the soft drink maker has been quietly developing a scheme to once again refuel the cola wars, attacking archrival Coca-Cola, and likely other beverages, head-on with the resurrection of its sweeping “Pepsi Challenge” competitive sampling push.

The Taste Challenge is expected to anchor an aggressive yearlong “growth challenge” where the company will bid its bottling partners to increase volume. Earlier this year, Pepsi introduced a “First Strike” incentive plan to reward bottlers with trips and prizes for attaining certain growth levels, a program that has been popular among bottlers in the Dr Pepper system for years.

Though plans are still in the early stages, the closely guarded Challenge, which will get a new name, is slated to hit 75 markets and run for eight months. GMR Marketing, a New Berlin, Wis., unit of Omnicom Group, is said to be handling the effort. Pepsi execs are expected to announce program details to bottlers at its annual convention this week.

A Pepsi rep declined to comment on any plans, saying only that the company “would be unveiling a number of programs to bottlers” on Thursday.

The initiative, said sources, will look to reassert Pepsi’s superior-taste claim, a 1970s tactic that proved highly successful for the brand when the No.2 cola pitted Pepsi against Coke in blind taste tests in a local Texas outpost. The Challenge went national in 1976 with a comparative advertising campaign from BBDO, N.Y., and literally put Pepsi on the map, drawing in some 11 million participants, per company lore. Indeed, then-marketing chief Roger Enrico rode the Challenge’s unprecedented success to the presidency of Pepsi-Cola.

“Back then, it was very tactical. But Pepsi wouldn’t be doing it again if it didn’t fit together nicely” with its current strategy, said a source close to the company.

As PepsiCo chairman/CEO, Enrico now presides over a very different beverage landscape where cola shares have dwindled as consumers have flocked to alternatives such as teas and waters. Today, both Pepsi and Coke have been unable to significantly grow their flagship brands, and consequently juice their low stock prices. Pepsi-Cola volume was down 2.2% in 1999, while Coke was also flat, per A.C.Nielsen’s five-channel take-home data.

As rival Coke continues to experience an extended period of turmoil as it revamps itself under new leadership, Pepsi is at a new crossroads, facing a unique opportunity to reinvigorate its core brand and its entire system.

Over the past few weeks, Pepsi has announced music and sports endorsements with singers Faith Hill and Kiss and baseball stars, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa. They will appear in the newest “Joy of Cola” ads, slated to break March 26 during the Academy Awards.

Pepsi last used the sampling tactic for the rollout of Pepsi One in 1999, handing out millions of cans of the one-calorie drink to consumers at malls. It blended the program thematically into advertising with MTV’s Tom Green serving as “master sampler,” popping up at libraries and gas stations, challenging consumers to try the beverage.

With Pepsi aboard for a summer “Choose Your Music” customized-CD program and a Major League Baseball sponsorship that includes “Takin’ it to the Fields” community baseball and softball programs, Pepsi may choose to contemporize the latest iteration of the Challenge via links to sporting venues and concerts, areas in which agency GMR is highly regarded.

Because music is a key link to the “Joy of Cola” campaign, which bowed a year ago via BBDO, entertainment may provide another building block with incentives and premiums for bottlers and consumers to participate in the Challenge.

Some bottlers indicated, though, that the program is an extremely labor-intensive initiative that may not yield the growth levels that Pepsi is looking to attain.

COPYRIGHT 2000 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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