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PETER YORK ON ADS; No 80: PEPSI/VIRGIN
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The Independent Culture
COLA WARS are here again, but this time there's another player. The original wars were Orwellian conflicts fought out by the American Coke and Pepsi duopoly. Now the ability to make halfway-decent colas has spread, and there's a major new contender for British hearts and minds in Virgin.

The new generation of cola ads shows what each business thinks The Struggle's really all about and who the enemy is. Coke has settled into a batten- down-the-hatches mode, majoring on the historic Secret Recipe and we-don't- make-own-label themes. It comes across as highly defensive.

Pepsi is back into the anti-Coke Cold War taste-test routine, updated with a sort of New California Brat Pack styling: self-consciously hip, young Brits who look New American - ie. the dreaded sign of the goatee beard. Though they're aiming for cool, the faux naif "it's make your mind up time" is deadly serious.

Virgin has the advantage of the brand, which has been carefully managed to stand for innovation and attitude. And they play it British - the light- black man with the earring, who presents, talks like Trevor McDonald's son - and launch full tilt into very British mockery of the sacred tokens of cola warfare. The Secret Recipe ("so secret even the man who invented it doesn't know it"); the Taste Test ("11 out of 10, three-and-a-half out of two"); the Agonising Choice ("they'll lay down their lives for it"); the Supermodel Endorsement (a posh blonde says she won't get out of bed for less than pounds 5); and the Battle Royal generally (an elderly Macmillan lookalike appears with fists up "this is a cola war - let's have a fight"). They even mock marketing speak: a huge "UNREAL" frequently fills the screen. After a year of self-importance from pedlars of brown fizz, they may just have hit the right note.

! Video supplied by Tellex Commercials.

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