Pepsi's blue horizon

COLA wars are set to erupt again next week when Pepsi unveils its pounds 200m global relaunch, billing the move as the most important marketing development in its 100-year history.

Pepsi will attempt to reverse flagging UK sales by ditching its traditional blue-and-red can and replacing it with an all-blue design.

The relaunch is to be accompanied by a pounds 3m television ad starring supermodel Cindy Crawford and tennis star Andre Agassi.

The commercial, made by London firm Abbot Mead Vickers, is to be screened at the launch on Tuesday at Gatwick airport. Agassi, Crawford and Claudia Schiffer are to be flown in on Concorde.

It is the most expensive ever made, beating British Airways' previous record of pounds 1.4m spent on last year's ad in which helicopters covered an island in cloth.

It shows the new blue can being created by a fusion of 20th-century icons: Agassi's tennis racket, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a Nintendo gameboy and a kiss from Ms Crawford.

Ms Crawford has also been recruited for Pepsi's new Pizza Hut ad, in which she and fellow- supermodel Linda Evangelista share a stuffed-crust pizza.

Pepsi's market share of the UK soft-drinks market has been squeezed by the launch of Virgin Cola and the growth in supermarkets' own-label cola brands.

It has halved from 21.2 per cent in 1993 to 10.7 per cent now. Virgin Cola, which launched 15 months ago, is now challenging Pepsi for second place with 7.5 per cent of the market. Supermarkets' own brands have jumped to 34.2 per cent.

Coca-Cola, which outsells Pepsi by three to one in the UK, says it is not at all concerned by Pepsi's relaunch, adding that its advertising method is to sponsor sport events. "We are moving away from celebrity endorsement," said a spokeswoman, "Our strategy centres much more strongly on sports fans."

As official sponsor to the Atlanta Olympics, Wimbledon, Euro '96 and the Coca-Cola cup, Coke invests more money in sport than any other soft- drinks firm. This year, the company is spend- ing pounds 14m on British football.

Virgin Cola, with 7.5 per cent of the market, says it is disappointed with Pepsi's campaign. "After all the secrecy and hype, it doesn't contain anything interesting or original," said a spokeswoman. "If Pepsi think that supermodels are going to get their sales back, good luck to them."