COLUMBUS, GA—Claiming the American consumer is in crisis, third-party soft drink Royal Crown Cola called for an end to two-brand dominance, demanding an equal playing field for all and urging sweeping restrictions on the amount Coke and Pepsi are allowed to spend on advertisements.
"Over the past several decades we've seen smaller, independent brands pushed to the sidelines," RC Cola President John Sunderland said Monday. "We cannot compete with the massive amounts the big sodas spend on their ad campaigns—campaigns that obscure the truth and drown out alternative voices in American cola. Rather than an honest, open dialogue, we are instead subjected to a horse race between two giants that ignores the key issues of improved taste and refreshingness."
According to RC Cola's research, Coke spent $1.3 billion on international print, billboard, and TV ads in 2005 alone; Pepsi spent $1.1 billion on a multimedia ad-campaign blitz, including sponsorships and product placement; and RC Cola spent $29,000 on local shopping-circular ads in a total of 32 U.S. states.
"It's all too easy to marginalize lesser-funded labels, especially when Coke and Pepsi can rely on huge war chests funded by the financial backing of corporations like PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company," Sunderland said during a sparsely attended press conference. "In many cases, these corporations have a vested interest in these colas, and are able to saturate the media with their status-quo beverage message. That is just not fair."
"When did all this stop being about refreshment?" he added.
RC Cola's plan would eliminate the use of corporate money to pay for broadcast advertising, as well as ensure that paid advertisements focus only on the demonstrably positive aspects of the cola in question without misleading consumers about its crispness.
"For instance, a Pepsi ad could still depict a delicious-looking 20-ounce bottle of soda," Sunderland said. "But it will be limited to five beads of condensation per inch of ad space or second of broadcast time." Similarly, Coke would be prohibited from exaggerating the sounds of a consumer opening a can of cola, chugging it, and emitting a satisfied "Ahhh."
RC Cola has also demanded that Coke and Pepsi cease running ads that feature paid spokespeople such as Christina Aguilera or LeBron James, deeming it "deceptive and underhanded" to pay public figures large sums of money to influence potential consumers.
"If someone wants to speak out on behalf of a specific product on their own time, that's their business, but to do it for pay is tantamount to bribery," RC Cola vice president and spokesperson Harold Florence said. "We insist that they say something of substance, rather simply than dance onstage or deliver a ferocious windmill slam behind some flashy logo and an easy sound bite."
Experts predict that Coke and Pepsi will likely find loopholes in the new law by using unlimited corporate soft-drink money on "issue ads," which educate the public about such concepts as taste, thirst, quenchiness, or satisfaction. Coke has already produced a series of issue ads that avoid the use of persuasive language such as "drink," "enjoy," and "buy," but depict excited, happy, attractive people holding Coke products.
Sunderland, however, said he refuses to give up his fight to provide Americans with "a bold new choice."
"There's no real difference between the two brands," Sunderland said. "When you get down to it, Pepsi is really just Coke Lite. What does it say about our country when you step up to the vending machine and there are only two choices?"
"We're here to say that Coke is indeed not it," Sunderland added. "And we're sick of the same old party line: crisp, clean, and refreshing, crisp, clean, and refreshing—isn't it time for a cola that's cool, refreshing, and great-tasting?"