Following Pepsi's Lead, Coke Tunes In to Net Music Scene

Times Staff Writer

Coca-Cola Co., which famously offered to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, now wants to teach the world to download in perfect legality.

Coke said Wednesday that it was planning a joint promotion with San Diego-based MusicMatch Inc., becoming the fifth beverage company seeking to fizz up its brands with a partnership that taps the popularity of online music.

PepsiCo Inc. will be the first out of the gate, offering as many as 100 million songs from Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store in a promotion that kicks off with a flashy commercial during Sunday's Super Bowl. Later this year, Miller Brewing Co., Heineken USA Inc. and South Beach Beverage Co. plan campaigns with Roxio Corp.'s Napster, RealNetworks Inc.'s Rhapsody and BuyMusic.com Inc., respectively.

The online music scene caught fire four years ago, and advertisers have been salivating ever since over the prospect of reaching millions of young consumers there. But the most popular destinations for downloaders -- file-sharing networks like Kazaa and Morpheus that have become havens for music pirates -- have been too hot for blue-chip advertisers to touch.

"The customers of Kazaa are used to not paying for their stuff," said Michael McGuire, an analyst with technology market researcher GartnerG2. "I'm not sure the soft drink companies are willing to endorse that" kind of thinking.

So far, the number of music fans quenching their thirst for tunes through legitimate online vendors like MusicMatch has been a tiny fraction of the millions using file-sharing networks. Only recently have industry-authorized outlets like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store started to draw audiences large enough to attract the interest of Coke and other top-tier advertisers.

That's why Rob Enderle, who runs a technology market research firm in San Jose, thinks the time is right for deals like Coke's partnership with MusicMatch.

"Wherever the kids are, they want to be," Enderle said. "Young adults are some of the most well-funded consumers in the world ... and people struggle to get access to those dollars. The kids are partying, and they want to be the thing the kids are partying with."

Coke, which last week put its name on a downloadable music store in England, revealed little about its plans with MusicMatch. Geoff Cottrill, who directs the music marketing group for Coca-Cola North America, said the promotion would feature Sprite lemon-lime soda and was expected to let customers download individual songs free and give them some access to MusicMatch's online jukebox service, which normally costs $4.95 a month.

The flurry of beverage promotions may not be over. Among the firms waiting for a potable partner is one of the pioneers in online music, and it couldn't have a better name: Liquid.com.

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