Pepsi blues over pounds 300m relaunch

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The Independent Online
As Pepsi took the cola wars into space this week, filming an advertisement on the Mir space station, things on the ground were looking a little more blue for them.

It is nearly two months since Pepsi's extravagant, but it seems less- than-successful relaunch.

The soft drink's pounds 330m image change at the beginning of April has not been translated into a rise in market share, according to confidential industry figures, with industry observers suggesting that it has "misfired".

At the April launch in Britain, 400 journalists were taken into a converted aircraft hangar at Gatwick airport to be persuaded that Project Blue - Pepsi's decision to change their cans from red, white and blue to, er, blue - was "modern,cool, exciting and dynamic". The supermodels Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, accompanied by tennis star Andre Agassi, turned up - as did a Concorde (painted blue), and the Daily Mirror appeared printed on blue paper.

But marketing experts were sceptical, and the latest figures seem to show that Pepsi has not succeeded in "changing the script" as its advertising campaign promised.

Figures that are prepared for AC Nielsen, which provides monthly analyses to the cola industry, suggest that Pepsi's volume share of the whole carbonated soft drink (CSD) take-home market slipped from 8.3 per cent in March to 7.9 per cent in April, although it went back up to 8.2per cent in May. At the same time, Coca-Cola's share has risen from 25.5 per cent in March to 26.8 per cent in May, while own-label colas in supermarkets have slipped slightly from 30.2 per cent in March 1996 to 29.8 per cent in May.

However, Pepsi says that if the data were to include only the cola market, rather than the whole of the CSD sector, the volume sales for Pepsi among the take-home market would be seen to have grown 18.6 per cent, and its market share to have gone up by 0.6 per cent, while Coke was down 0.8 per cent.

Pepsi remains unbowed. "We feel really good about what is happening," said Simon Lowden, marketing director for Pepsi UK. "This is not a 1996 thing - it's for 1997,98, 99. It's a long-term project repositioning the brand."

But among retailers, the feeling is mixed. A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's said: "After a slow start, the impact of Pepsi Blue is now beginning to build and show incremental growth."

But Asda takes a different view: "Our own brand was outstripping Pepsi by two to one before the relaunch. And we were already packaging our cola in blue last summer."

Sean Brierley, deputy editor of Marketing Week, said Pepsi had "completely missed the mark". "Heads will roll. They had staked their careers on this." Dominic Mills, editorial director of the advertising magazine Campaign, said: "They had a perfectly good drink, if you like that kind of thing, It's a risky strategy to hinge every thing on a change of colour - which is all it was."