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COKE, PEPSI FIGHT HOLDS UP ‘CANTARE’

The commercial rivalry between Coke and Pepsi has spilled onto a new and unexpected battlefront: the charity recording by 49 Latino pop stars patterned after the USA for Africa campaign.

Nearly two weeks after its May 20 targeted release date, the single, “Cantare, Cantaras,” is still held up because of a squabble involving singer Julio Iglesias, the record’s most prominent personality.

Coca-Cola objects to the planned use on the record sleeve of the Pepsi-Cola logo alongside Iglesias, one of Coke’s highly paid celebrity spokesmen, presumably because its placement suggests a link between the singer and the rival firm.

Pepsi’s logo is due to appear on the record as a sponsorship credit because the soft drink company donated $150,000 to the Latino project, known as Hermanos. CBS Records, after some wangling of its own with rival RCA, won worldwide distribution rights for the single and an accompanying album. The profits are expected to go primarily to fight poverty in Latin America.

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Reached Thursday in the Bahamas, where he’s recording an album, Iglesias seemed dismayed by the controversy.

“What I really don’t understand is why there should be any conflict at all,” Iglesias said. “It all seems a little absurd. I just wish I knew what I could do (to help).

“I would like Coke and Pepsi to come together in this trifling matter, just as all the artists came together to complete this philanthropic project.”

Sergio Zyman, senior vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola USA, said Thursday in Los Angeles that his firm objects to what he called Pepsi’s commercialization of the charity effort.

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At the same time, however, he insisted that a credit line be added to the record jacket indicating that Iglesias “appears courtesy of Coca-Cola.” Failing that, Zyman said, his firm would require that Pepsi’s credit not appear as planned.

“Our position is that we want to make sure it is recognized that Julio is associated with Coke,” Zyman said. The unintended Pepsi-Iglesias connection may be “confusing to the consumer” and could “affect the integrity of the artist,” he maintained.

In one of many ironies surrounding what has become a bedeviled project, Zyman had flown here from his company’s Atlanta headquarters to assist in a press conference Thursday announcing Coke’s newest Spanish-language celebrity spokesman, Cantinflas. The famed Mexican comedian also participated in the Hermanos recording and appears prominently in the group photo, thereby raising the possibility of a second conflict.

Peter Lopez, a prominent Los Angeles entertainment attorney who has represented Hermanos, was discouraged by Zyman’s position.

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“I feel a great sense of frustration with these corporate politics,” Lopez said. “This is not a commercial project. While these people make up their minds, 3,000 kids are dying every day in Latin America.”

Contacted by The Times, Pepsi spokesman Ken Ross said he doesn’t see his firm backing down on the use of its logo on the record. “We understand that it’s going to be on there,” he said.

Ironically, Coke had been given first crack at sponsoring the Latino effort, funds from which will be channeled through UNICEF to Latin America, except for 10% which will go to the USA for Africa coffers. The Hermanos group had asked Coke for $300,000 to cover production costs for the recording, related video and one-hour documentary. But Coke turned down the request, just days before the recording session, said Pepe Quintana, co-producer of the record.

The organizers were “stunned” by the decision, according to Hermanos executive director Luis Medina.

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Coke’s Zyman criticized the Hermanos request for funds as “sketchy” and charged that the organizers had lured Iglesias into the project by claiming that it would be a Coke-sponsored event. Iglesias denied this, however, stressing that he joined the group “weeks before any sponsors even existed.”

A source within Coke’s corporate headquarters said the company had backed off the project partly because it was unable to resolve the “logistical nightmare” of splitting the cost burden internally between domestic and international units of the organization.

In addition, the source speculated, the project may have come at a bad time, just as the firm was gearing up a big campaign for its “new taste.” The decision against the sponsorship, the source said, came from officials of the parent firm, the Coca-Cola Co.

Scrambling for alternative money, the Hermanos group contacted rival Pepsi, which responded “within 24 hours” with a $150,000 grant, Lopez said. According to Pepsi’s Ross, the decision was made “in less than 15 minutes” by Roger Enrico, president of Pepsico’s domestic soft drink subsidiary.

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To resolve the current impasse, Zyman said Coca-Cola would now be willing to match the Pepsi donation and share the sponsorship credit on the record. He also claimed Coke had been willing all along to put up half the needed funds. Lopez disputed this statement, however. “I don’t know who they might have communicated that to; maybe the gate guard at A&M;,” the attorney said.

The USA for Africa campaign, featuring such major U.S. pop stars as Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder, has raised an estimated $47 million through the sale of records and related merchandise, primarily to aid famine victims in Africa. The Hermanos project was inspired by that campaign. Besides Iglesias and Cantinflas, Latino artists participating in the recording included Jose Jose, Jose Luis Rodriguez and Maria Conchita Alonso.

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