Image: Courteney Cox Coca-Cola ad
A still image from Coca-Cola's new commercial shows real-life married actors Courteney Cox Arquette, right, and David Arquette, as they share the last Coke in the refrigerator.

Are rich and famous celebrities just like you and me? In Coca-Cola’s new ad campaign breaking on TV Monday, actresses Penelope Cruz and Courteney Cox Arquette and singer Mya are featured in their everyday lives acting like “real” people. The star-studded campaign is Coke’s latest major effort to reconnect with teen-age consumers, borrowing from rival PepsiCo’s love affair with young, popular celebrities.

Image: MSNBC Reporter Jane Weaver
THE ATLANTA BEVERAGE maker plans to launch the first of more than a dozen television commercials during the “American Music Awards” on ABC as part of a broad marketing campaign for the company’s flagship brand.

In one commercial, , best known for her part in the movie guzzles an entire Coca-Cola at a seaside joint and burps as stunned patrons watch. She then gives an embarrassed, but knowing grin.

Another, directed by () shows “Friends” co-star pouring her husband, actor , a Coke in their living room. In the third, Mya sings a hip-hop version of Eddie Harris’s golden oldie “Compared to What,” intercut with scenes showing her dealing with an overzealous agent, and paparazzi at a red carpet event.

Image: Mya Coca-Cola ad
A still image from a new Coca-Cola commercial, featuring pop stars Mya, left, and Common, singing an updated version of the song ''Real Compared to What.''
All of the commercials close with variations of the new tagline, “Coca-Cola...Real,” a reference to the soft drink’s classic slogan, “The Real thing.”

Other commercials focus on regular people caught in “bonding” moments. In “Science,” two young men sharing useless trivia meet two cute girls near a Coke machine.

The ads were carefully tested with consumers who want brands to be “genuine, authentic and real,” Chris Lowe, chief marketing officer of Coca-Cola North America said in a statement.

Coke has been without a slogan in the U.S. since its “Life tastes good” campaign was scrapped after Sept. 11, 2001. The bubbly tagline was thought inappropriate after the 9/11 tragedies.

While Coke has been successful in introducing line extensions such as Diet Coke with Lemon or Vanilla Coke over the last few years, “it’s really crucial to put some spark into Coke Classic,” said Gary Hemphill, president of research firm Beverage Marketing Corp., often referred to as the industry’s “drink think tank.” “This is an attempt to put real focus on the brand and make it more relevant.”

Competition for young consumers has intensified in the beverage market with the proliferation of bottled water, fruit and sports drinks. Since 1999, there has been relatively slow growth, an estimated 0.5 percent, in the carbonated beverage category, Hemphill said.

In the image-driven cola wars, winning at marketing is half the battle. Coke remains the world’s No. 1 soft drink maker, but rival Pepsi is known as an advertising risk-taker which is more tapped into youthful trends and fads, analysts say.

Historically, Coke has produced memorable marketing campaigns, but recent attempts have been seen as underwhelming.

“Coke executives believe if they get the marketing right and bring innovation to the category, they’ll be able to accelerate growth,” said Hemphill.

The TV ads break just as rival Pepsi prepares a new campaign with actress and Destiny’s Child member , after dropping pop princess . Knowles joins Pepsi’s long line of celebrity endorsers, including and .

The Pepsi campaign starring Knowles is expected to break in the spring.

Coke has used celebrities in previous campaigns — a pre-’J Lo’ appeared in some ads in 1998, for example — but most of its advertising has focused on the brand itself. During the 2002 Winter Olympics, one commercial featured a young man giving a Coke to a pretty French figure skater.

The new campaign is the fourth time Coke has used “real” in its slogan. In the 1970s, the cola giant introduced “It’s the real thing,” followed by “America’s real choice,” in 1985 and “Can’t beat the real thing” in 1990.

Beyond advertising, the Coke Classic packaging will get a new look in 2003. The brand graphics will modernize the familiar Coca-Cola ribbon, adding a thread of bright yellow to the package. Pepsi reportedly also plans a graphics change on its flagship cola brand this year.

A Coke spokeswoman didn’t comment on spending levels for the new campaign, but if it is a hit, the soft drink company will throw the weight of its marketing might behind it. In 2001, Coke spent $155 million advertising its Classic brand, according to CMR, an ad-tracking research company. Pepsi spent $102 million on its flagship brand during the same time.

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