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Shooting for stars, Coke hires Hollywood agency to direct marketing


HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz -- who has shaped the careers of such celebrities as Kevin Costner, Steven Spielberg and Robert De Niro -- will try to work his magic on a soft drink.

In an unprecedented move, Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta announced yesterday that it has hired Mr. Ovitz's Creative Artists Agency as its worldwide media and communications consultants. CAA will advise the soft-drink giant -- which is trying to regain the cola marketing edge from archrival Pepsico -- on everything from advertising strategy to talent tie-ins.

The agreement significantly blurs the distinction between Madison Avenue and Hollywood, putting the star-making machinery at the fingertips of one of the world's most ubiquitous consumer companies. It also expands Mr. Ovitz's sphere of influence beyond the world of entertainment, where he has become recognized as Hollywood's leading power broker.

"California sets the cultural agenda for the world," said Peter S. Sealey, Coke's senior vice president and director of global marketing. And CAA "knows what songs we'll be singing next year and what motion pictures we'll be seeing in December 1992."

The talent agency will advise Coke at both the creative and corporate levels, Mr. Sealey said. CAA has submitted more than 50 ideas for improving advertising and marketing, sources close to the deal said.

Though Mr. Seeley says that the deal with CAA is not aimed at blunting the marketing challenge from Pepsi, the talent agency's formidable roster of actors, directors, singers and athletes is sure to be enlisted in the effort to promote Coke products. CAA agents, accustomed to packaging such projects as "Rain Man" and "The Golden Girls," now also will help frame Coke's advertising strategy.

Coke controls nearly half of the $47 billion-a-year worldwide soft-drink market. But it has been locked in a battle domestically with Pepsico. Pepsi has 33.2 percent of the American market to Coke's 40.9 percent.

Both companies spend about $200 million annually on U.S. advertising. But a survey last month for the trade publication Adweek found that American TV viewers prefer Pepsi's commercials; 24 percent of the people surveyed said that their favorite ad in the past month was a Pepsi ad, while only 8 percent named Coke, according to the survey by Opinion Research Corp.

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