In a happy coincidence, Coke ad features a Pittsburgh Steeler

By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — The Coke (KO) vs. Pepsi (PEP) cola wars will heat up for the Super Bowl. But in a nod to changing consumer tastes, one of Coca-Cola’s three Super Sunday ads will tout fast-growing, no-calorie Coke Zero, not Classic Coke.

Having the Steelers in the game is a bonus for the Zero ad: It features Steelers star safety Troy Polamalu.

“We’re thrilled about Troy, and we’re thrilled about the Steelers. … (It’s) going to be a powerful spot in the game,” said Katie Bayne, North American chief marketing officer, as she and other executives on Wednesday introduced Coke’s new global ad campaign with the theme “Open Happiness.”

The Zero ad and two upbeat Coca-Cola ads will air in the second half. The two Coke ads, part of the new campaign, include one in which insects try to steal a bottle of Coke from a young man sleeping in a park. In another, a man walks through a city and people around him turn into computer avatars.

Bayne gave no details of the Zero ad, but people briefed on it said it is a send-up of the 1979 Coke ad in which the Steelers’ Mean Joe Greene tosses his jersey to a young fan who gave him a Coke. It aired in the 1980 Super Bowl and remains one of the best-remembered game ads.

The people, who would not be named because they are not authorized to speak about the ad until it is formally announced, said Polamalu will demonstrate tackling skills, and the ad also will feature the same two characters playing Coke brand managers who have appeared since it launched in 2006.

It’s fitting the takeoff is for Coke Zero, which is fueling sales growth. Zero has become a $1 billion brand, with sales volume up 40% in North America and 34% worldwide in 2008.

Coke has been trying for a more youthful image with its American Idol sponsorship and the previous “The Coke Side of Life” campaign. The new campaign’s rollout includes release of an Open Happiness single by artists including Patrick Stump of band Fall Out Boy and Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley.

There also will be new 16-ounce, single-serve bottles for Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero in stores nationwide by summer. They are aimed at growing profitable single sales with a 99-cent value price. They will sell alongside the familiar 20-ounce bottles now priced at $1.25 to $1.40.