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Pepsi Earns Wings in Home Video

During a commercial break in tonight’s Grammy Awards, TV viewers will see a fighter pilot appear to fly his jet upside down just to get a swig of Diet Pepsi.

Not a bad stunt. But starting Sunday, that same commercial--which cost more than $1 million to produce--will pull off an even more unusual stunt. It will appear in a home video.

When the box-office blockbuster “Top Gun” and its jet pilot heartthrob Tom Cruise hit the video store shelves, the opening credits will be preceded by the Diet Pepsi commercial. This marks the first time that a big-name advertiser has ventured into the uncharted world of home videos.

Ad industry executives say that Pepsico Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corp. have struck a deal that may forever change the home video industry. In exchange for the home video ad, Diet Pepsi will plug the Top Gun home video on its own TV commercials. No money changes hands in the cross-promotion.

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“It remains to be seen if others can put deals like this together,” said John Power, president of the American Video Assn., a trade group of video store owners. “But this appears to be the start of an industry trend.” Indeed, a spokeswoman at MCA Home Video said that company is also “looking seriously” at the use of video commercials.

Paramount has already received inquiries about home video commercials from other soft drink companies and major snack food operations. “You wouldn’t want to do commercials for just anything,” said Robert Klingensmith, president of Paramount’s video division. “I don’t think you’ll see home video ads for car wax.”

Although the Diet Pepsi commercial was modeled after Top Gun, the deal with Paramount was an afterthought. The commercial was originally filmed as a TV spot.

The marketing venture between Paramount and Pepsi was the brainstorm of Rockbill Inc., a New York entertainment marketing firm that previously brought Pepsi together with rock star Michael Jackson. Although the Diet Pepsi commercial was originally made independent of the tie-in, “once it was brought to the attention of Paramount, a deal was quickly struck,” said Ken Ross, a Pepsi spokesman.

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For years, Diet Pepsi has been hunting for a way to broaden its appeal to men, said Ross. Pepsi executives figured that the male market--which has generally been slow to hop aboard the diet drink bandwagon--might think better of diet soda if a fighter pilot was shown downing a can of the stuff in mid-flight.

Some customers, however, may surely resent the sight of commercials on home videos. Others, however, will be lured by the price. Paramount plans to charge $26.95 for Top Gun--some $3 less than its home videos of “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Paramount executives say they can charge lower prices because they expect Diet Pepsi’s TV promotion of Top Gun videocassettes to greatly boost their sales.

At least one video store manager expects big sales. “People would rather sit through a commercial and pay less for the video,” said Joe Medwick, marketing manager at Tower Video in Los Angeles. “Besides, they can always fast-forward through the commercial.”

But not everyone thinks the Top Gun commercial is a top-rate idea. One retailer in the San Francisco Bay area has threatened to edit out the commercials from all the tapes he sells--a move that a Paramount spokesman said could also edit out part of the film. But one video fan offered a far different suggestion to Klingensmith. “Why not put 30 commercials on a video,” he said, “and give it away for free?”

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Grammy a Showcase of Glitzy Ad Productions

Next to the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards show may be emerging as one of television’s hottest advertising showcases. Although 30-second spots cost about $200,000 each--less than a third of the price of Super Bowl spots--they reach an audience that has increasingly come to expect pizazz in the commercials that surround the glittery event.

McDonald’s has been a Grammy regular. And, of course, Pepsi, which will advertise for the fourth consecutive year. The soft drink company will launch a series of ads, created by BBDO Worldwide. Among them is Pepsi’s latest Michael Jackson spot--but with a twist. It is, in the words of one Pepsi spokesman, “a commercial for a commercial.”

The 45-second “sneak preview” commercial replaces a three-minute, $2-million Jackson ad that was previously slated. The original commercial has been put on hold until Jackson’s new album is released later this year, the spokesman said. Also, tonight, Michael J. Fox of “Family Ties” fame will be featured in a 90-second Diet Pepsi spot.

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In case you’re keeping track, it was in 1984 that Jackson’s first Pepsi commercial premiered on the Grammy Awards, followed by three one-minute commercials featuring Lionel Richie during the 1985 awards. Last year, Pepsi tapped Miami Vice star Don Johnson for its Grammy spot. And next year? Said a Pepsi spokesman: “Whoever’s hot.”

Supermarket War May Spill Over to Agencies

The supermarket war in Southern California may not be just between the markets, but between their ad agencies as well.

Last week--one week after the ad firm Cochrane Chase, Livingston & Co. was fired by Lucky Stores--the West Coast office of Grey Advertising dropped the $12-million Vons account that it held for 14 years.

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Primary reason: Lucky is up for grabs. “It’s fair to say that (Lucky) would be a substantial piece of business,” said Miles Turpin, president and chief operating officer at Grey. Lucky has said that it plans to consolidate all of its $20-million-plus Northern and Southern California advertising business. And if it doesn’t land Lucky, Turpin said Grey plans to make a bid for other supermarket accounts.

For Turpin, dropping Vons was no easy decision. He is close friends with Bill Davila, president of Vons. And in more ways than one, Vons has been quite an income producer for Turpin’s family. Said Turpin: “I have four sons who worked their way through college working at Vons.”

Davila, meanwhile, is already out agency hunting and has narrowed the number of contenders to eight, he said. A decision will be made by April--one that might even end his TV career as a commercial star.

“I have no ego trip on this,” said Davila. In fact, he said, fame has its price. “I’ve had people follow me off the freeway waving,” he said. “And on a recent trip to Hawaii, a girl stopped me on the beach and asked me if I was Mr. Vons.”

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