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Jewish World Review April 11, 2002 / 30 Nisan, 5762

Matt Towery

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Consumer Reports

How the peaceful fairways of the world's most revered golf course, may serve as a brilliant strategic battleground the most recent round of "cola wars" | Sometimes in the world of business, a battle between two competitors can result in two winners. And victories in these commercial skirmishes can often be waged on the most unlikely of battlefields.

Here's the inside story of how the peaceful fairways of the world's most revered golf course, Augusta National, may serve as a brilliant strategic battleground for one of the combatants in the most recent round of "cola wars."

First, a little background. Over the past few years, the once-dominant Coca-Cola Company has seen its market share and stock price diminish as its chief rival, Pepsi -- along with its parent company, Pepsico -- gained momentum. Pepsi's formula for success seemed to rely on the same theme that had, in past years, always brought growth in its share of the market. It is a simple message -- "We're young, you're young, so drink our product."

With clever ads that have mixed the titillating appeal of teen singing sensation Britney Spears along with a little humorous injection of older but "hip" icons such as former Senate majority leader-turned-Viagra promoter Bob Dole, Pepsi seemed to capture the imagination of the younger generation. Meanwhile, the last memorable ad campaign of archrival Coke -- the frolicking, cola-guzzling polar bears -- seemed quite literally frozen in time. The bears have been around for years, with no new theme or slogan emerging in Coke's imagination or the public's mind to replace them.

But just as it appeared that the once-dominant Coke might be permanently knocked off its throne as king of the colas, along came a series of apparently very smart marketing decisions. Coke's choice of sponsoring the recent Winter Olympics, often considered the boring lesser sibling to the mighty Summer Olympics, proved to be a stroke of genius.

As it turned out, the United States was not an exception to the adage that host countries often provide more entertainment than their Olympic athletes do medals, and Coke benefited from it. Along with more Americans than expected winning gold, silver and bronze, there was a slew of judging controversies, plus plenty of potshots taken at the host nation by the usual anti-American contingent among international media and others. All the attention blunted the impact of Coke's ho-hum commercials and made the company's sponsorship investment a winning choice.

Not that Coke's Olympic sponsorship didn't have its blips. Sources say there was corporate concern aplenty when Canadian skater Jamie Sale reportedly entered the arena to accept her belated gold medal, only to be seen drinking a brand of water owned by Pepsico.

But even these little skirmishes do not daunt those devoted to their cause. Now the Coca-Cola Company has taken its fight to improve sales and stock value to the storied links of the Augusta National Golf Course, site of the Masters golf tournament. At first blush, it would appear odd for a company fighting against the youthful sex symbols of its chief rival to bring the battle to the staid, traditional sport of golf. After all, isn't all the action to be found at the Super Bowl or the World Series?

Here's the reason: Golf has one of the most attentive and patient audiences in the world. It also happens to be the sport closest to the hearts of executives, senior purchasing managers and, yes, financiers. More stock analysts, investment portfolio managers and corporate decision makers will watch this week's Masters tournament than any other single sporting event.

Those who are most likely to spread the word of Coke's successful launch of a new flavored version of its diet brand, or the possibility of new products to come, will either be in Augusta to view golf's finest hour, or will be glued to their television watching the final rounds. Either way, the Coca-Cola Company wins.

But the most interesting part of these cola wars is the inside secret that veterans of the beverage industry know all too well. When the two giants of the soft drink industry go at it, both end up as winners. Witness the recent rebound of Coca-Cola's price per share and Pepsico's similar continued growth in value. It appears that when these two choose to take each other on, whether it's Pepsi stealing away sponsorship of the NFL or Coke hinting at a new vanilla-flavored drink, both prosper.

This week, however, the winner will likely be Coke. Yes, watching a scantily clad Britney dancing and singing can go a long way toward getting the attention of youngsters (and many parents). But the more placid yet compelling setting of great competition against a sea of perfectly manicured green grass, awash with the pinks and whites of azaleas and dogwoods, is a perfect way to get a message across to the most influential of audiences.

Isn't competition a wondrous thing?

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate