A new front is opened up in the cola wars: diet-conscious men

Diet Cola manufacturers will today enter into a battle for the hearts and minds of a new breed of health-conscious male consumer. In an attempt to keep its core market, Pepsi Max, the sugar-free soft drink that has targeted young male drinkers since the early 1990s, has launched a multimillion-pound advertising campaign.

Diet Cola manufacturers will today enter into a battle for the hearts and minds of a new breed of health-conscious male consumer. In an attempt to keep its core market, Pepsi Max, the sugar-free soft drink that has targeted young male drinkers since the early 1990s, has launched a multimillion-pound advertising campaign.

The brand will go head to head with Diet Coke, which last month broke with its tradition of targeting female consumers and launched its first unisex adverts, tapping into the growing male appetite for diet drinks.

An increasing focus on obesity by the Government and the media has led to a decline in the regular British cola market of 7 per cent in the past year, a trend drinks manufacturers have been quick to respond to. The no-sugar drinks market is a highly competitive arena. In the past year, sales of Pepsi Max have risen 3.8 per cent, and sales of Diet Coke have declined 5.8 per cent. But Diet Coke remains the market leader, with Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi accounting for only 25 per cent of the no-sugar market in the UK.

The manufacturers of Pepsi Max are now spending more on marketing the brand than on any of their other colas.

For years, Diet Coke advertising was aimed at woman, with campaigns such as "Hunk", in which a group of office girls ogled a construction worker as he downed a can of Coke. Now 40 per cent of Diet Coke's 12 million drinkers are men, prompting the manufacturer to overhaul its image.

The new unisex face of the brand is Tort, an animatronic tortoise who plays football and skateboards. Coke is supporting the campaign, which has been running since 30 December 2004, with a 50 per cent increase in marketing spend. Pepsi has brought out its own ad based on animal humour. "Monkey Taxi" has a chimpanzee driving a bewildered passenger in a New York taxi. A second, "Glue Boy", stays true to Pepsi Max's boyish image, showing an office worker persuaded by his colleagues to descend a sky scraper using sticky pads on his hands and feet.

Caroline Diamond, Pepsi's UK marketing director, said: "With the health and wellness agenda increasing for the consumer, we decided to up-weight our campaign behind Max." She insisted Pepsi took the decision to promote the brand heavily before it knew about Diet Coke's change in strategy and added that the parallel advertising campaigns would boost the whole market.

Dan Rookwood, commissioning editor at Men's Health magazine, said: "It's no longer sissy to have diet drinks. Men are proud about looking after themselves these days. Once it was all about fry-ups and pints of beer, now it's much more socially acceptable to go for a skinny latte and a salad."

But the advertising expert Peter York believes it is a last- ditch attempt by an outdated brand to remain cool. "I remember the 1990s campaigns for Pepsi Max which were very much dumb-and-dumber campaigns," he said. "It was definitely for suburban boys who wanted to be like Keanu Reeves. If you take Diet Coke and make it successfully unisex, you have sort of squelched Pepsi Max, because it starts to look outdated."

Pepsi Max launched in 1993, when it was promoted by an advertising campaign focusing on "dudes" engaging in extreme sports such as abseiling and surfing. The PR consultant Mark Borkowski believes that in the longer term, diet cola brands will have to face wider issues than whether a drink contains sugar. "The trend is for men to focus on what goes into their body. A health-conscious man will consume more water than diet cola," he said.

HOW THE BRANDS COMPARE

DIET COKE

* Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886.

* Coca-Cola is the world's biggest brand with 1.3 billion beverage servings a day.

* Diet Coke launched in the UK in 1983.

* In 10 years, Diet Coke has doubled in size, with 12 million drinkers in UK.

* Diet Coke with lime is launching this month.

PEPSI

* North Carolina pharmacist Caleb Bradham founded Pepsi-Cola in the late 1890s.

* Today, consumers spend $33bn on Pepsi drinks.

* Pepsi Max launched in the UK in 1993.

* Pepsi Max Twist, a new lemon and lime variant, launches this month.

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