Pepsi turns air blue as cola wars reach for sky

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The Independent Online
The smiles will be wide and the fingers will be crossed today as Pepsi seeks supremacy in the global cola wars with a bevy of supermodels, a tennis star and a Concorde painted blue.

Marketing executives will be well aware that relaunching a cola is a dangerous business, as Coca-Cola found to its cost when it tried to alter its secret recipe in the 1980s.

But in a move Pepsi describes as "the most important marketing development in its 100-year history" - and apparently the most expensive - it is ditching its red-and-blue can and replacing it with an electric- blue one to differentiate it from its main rival, Coca-Cola.

Air France has agreed to paint one of its Concordes in the new Pepsi colour as part of the promotion to launch the new cans. British Airways was also approached but decided the deal would dilute its own strong corporate image.

Air France refused to comment yesterday but it is likely that the plane has been chartered for at least 10 days as part of the promotion.

Today journalists from 40 countries are being flown and shipped to London Gatwick Airport to witness the news conference to end all news conferences, with the supermodels Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer and the tennis star Andre Agassi present.

As another part of the campaign Pepsi has also paid between pounds 1m and pounds 2m to the Daily Mirror, a long-time Labour supporter, to go blue for the day, although the editor, Piers Morgan, claims that "[it] is a one-off and is not intended we are changing our political allegiance".

Today will also be the first airing of the new Pepsi commercial, starring Crawford and Agassi. It is estimated to cost pounds 3m, the most expensive yet made, beating British Airways' record of pounds 1.4m on last year's advertisement, in which helicopters covered an island in cloth.

In the bitter cola wars, Pepsi has always run second to the market leader, Coca-Cola, the world's most recognised brand, which this year trumpets its sponsorship of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Euro '96, Wimbledon and the Coca-Cola Cup.

The two big brands are particularly under pressure in Britain, from Virgin Cola, which yesterday ran an April Fool's advertising campaign warning customers "if the can turns blue the cola's gone flat", and supermarket own brands.

So, as the blue Concorde arrives at Gatwick today, Pepsi will be hoping it proves more successful than some of its previous marketing endeavours.

It had to drop Michael Jackson from its campaign after child-abuse allegations were made against the star.

And in a Pepsi promotional campaign in the Philippines in May 1992 the company promised to give up to 1m pesos (about pounds 25,000) to holders of bottle-caps imprinted with a three-digit number.

Because of a computer error, however, at least 600,000 caps were printed with the winning number. Two people died in riots in the Philippines when 800,000 entrants each claimed the jackpot.

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