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Pepsi to Coke: ‘Can Somebody Tell Me Why They Did It?’

April 30, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Pepsi Cola Co., seizing ″the opportunity of a lifetime,″ has launched an advertising campaign that seeks to exploit rival Coca-Cola’s decision to change its formula.

In a television commercial put together in less than a week, a teen-age girl stares into the camera and asks: ″Can somebody out there tell me why they did it? They said they were ‘the real thing.’ They said they were ‘it.’ And now they’ve changed.″

After announcing that she is about to try Pepsi for the first time, the girl takes a sip from a can and says, ″Ummm. Now I know why.″

The Coca-Cola Co. announced last week that it was scrapping its 99-year-old formula for one that is slightly sweeter. Pepsi began work on the new commercial immediately, shooting it Friday on videotape instead of film so it would be ready faster.

″We see it as the opportunity of a lifetime, and we cannot simply let it pass by,″ Pepsi spokesman Ken Ross said Monday. He said 50 percent of soft- drink customers switch between brands, and ″we believe that loyal Coke base is now up for grabs.″

Ross said the ad will get heavy play over the next month and may be replaced by more ads exploiting Coke’s change. Ross would not comment on how much Pepsi was spending on the campaign, but would not deny reports that it was in the vicinity of $2.5 million.

In Atlanta, headquarters of Coca-Cola Co., two publications reported that Coke had spent four years developing the new formula and had used code names, paper shredders and secrecy oaths to conceal its intentions.

Jesse Meyers, publisher of Beverage Digest, said in his latest newsletter to subscribers that Coca-Cola officials disguised their plans by using ″red herrings″ such as:

-Telling employees in Puerto Rico, where the syrup based on the new formula was manufactured, that the formula was for Cherry Coke, which also was recently introduced as a new product.

-Sending a memo to its bottlers urging them to reduce inventories because a new design would incorporate a new logo marking the company’s 100th anniversary in 1986. ″What Coke really wanted was for their bottlers to deplete their inventories,″ Meyers said.

-Using the code name ″Kansas″ for the project. The code name was taken from praise heaped on the original Coke by the late William Allen White, a noted Kansas newspaper editor.

-Dividing up the work on the project among offices in London, Holland, California and New York to ″hamper the news flow.″

Meanwhile, Advertising Age reported that the ad agency for the new brand, McCann-Erickson, took ″national security″ precautions.

The magazine said the McCann-Erickson team named to handle the assignment met in offices called ″the bunker″ in New York and fed the notes taken during each meeting into a paper shredder.

The team operated with no support staff to keep the number of people involved to a minimum. When staff support eventually was brought in, the magazine said, each person was required to sign a legal document stating that he would not disclose what he was working on.

Coca-Cola officials have revealed few details about the change except that the decision to begin research on a new formula was made ″two or three months″ after Roberto C. Goizueta took over in 1981 as chairman and chief executive officer.

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