Now it's Coke's turn to find the right one, baby

Mike Royko

September 11, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

ACCORDING TO a Wall Street Journal report, some Coca-Cola executives are careful to avoid making the sound "uh-huh" while talking to each other.

That's because of the fierce advertising competition between Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.

At the moment, the Diet Pepsi commercials appear to be having a greater impact on the hearts and minds and stomachs of the American public.

And the phrase "uh-huh" is part of the reason for this success. As any TV viewer knows, the Diet Pepsi commercial stars Ray Charles merrily singing: "You got the right one baby, uh-huh," while a bevy of foxy beauties wiggle and join in on the "uh-huh."

The story didn't explain whether a Coke executive who is heard saying "uh-huh" might be considered disloyal or subversive. Or if they are forcing themselves to use substitute phrases, such as "yep," "you betcha," or "I reckon."

But it says that Ray Charles' spirited rendition of "You got the right one baby, uh-huh" has been so successful that Diet Coke is now planning to unleash a whole new advertising campaign in an effort to persuade consumers that Ray Charles and his "uh-huh" are wrong -- it is absolutely not the right one.

So the creative minds at big-time ad agencies have been sweating out slogans to counterattack Ray Charles and his memorable "uh-huh."

What these slogans are hasn't been revealed. But finding the most potent catch-phrase has become one of the top corporate priorities at Coca-Cola.

This shows that there is far more to selling diet pop than adding some flavoring to fizz water and telling people that it tastes good and it won't make your belly bigger.

And I can understand why Diet Coke's executives might resent the claim made by Ray Charles that Diet Pepsi is the right one, uh-huh.

Who is to say what the right one is? There are many people who think that Dr Pepper is the right one. Some traditionalists might prefer whipping up their own lemonade and will insist that is the right one. Some of my friends scoff at the idea that any drink that doesn't make you feel miserable and bleary-eyed the next morning could possibly claim to be the right one.

While I respect Ray Charles as a musician and admire the beauty and energy of the young ladies who joyfully cry out "uh-huh," I believe that it's presumptuous of them to tell millions of Americans what the right one is, uh-huh.

And based on my own tests, I have found their message rather misleading.

I recently bought a few cans of Diet Pepsi, took them home, sat down at the kitchen table, poured myself a glass, took a long sip and waited to see what happened.

Nothing happened. No burst of music, no beautiful women in tight dresses singing "uh-huh," no festive mood sweeping over me, no sense that I am part of a furiously happy new generation.

I was just sitting there in my kitchen with a glass of pop. And the only sound I heard was the "clunk" of my automatic ice cube maker.

If Coke is smart, it won't foist any exaggerated claims on us. It should consider using the format for the greatest TV advertising campaigns in the history of that medium.

I'm talking about the ads that used to run late at night for gadgets that chopped up vegetables, knives that could hack through steel bars, and a thing with a whirling needle that you poked into an egg so it would be scrambled when you cracked the shell.

No singing. No dancing girls. No big Hollywood production. The man in the commercial would simply chop up a stalk of celery, slice a tomato, peel a potato and exclaim: "Isn't that amazing?"

So why not just have some ordinary person sitting at his kitchen table drinking a Diet Coke and saying: "We can't promise that if you drink this, you will suddenly be transported to a wild pool-side party. We won't tell you that your dreams will be fulfilled and that you will find happiness. But you can drink 100 cans of of this stuff every day and maybe you will burp a lot, but we promise that you won't gain an ounce. And it has no sugar, so your teeth won't fall out. And it won't make you the least bit drunk. Isn't that amazing?"

I don't know if it would be the right one, baby, but it would be the truthful one, uh-huh.

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