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Coke vs. Pepsi: Another tough choice for teens

May 30, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

All adolescents have difficult decisions to make in their young lives, but some are just too comprehensive to ask our youth to figure out at such a tender age.

Like Coke or Pepsi?

Yet that's what is happening at Smithsburg High School, which is agonizing over a decision about which brand of cola to endorse - or, more accurately, which cola will pay the school the most money to advertise in its hallways and be sole supplier in its vending machines.

So what ever happened to RC? I guess Royal Crown passed on the bidding war or maybe it's just that it doesn't exist anymore.

I feel so old sometimes. The only soft drink I was allowed as a kid was something called "Wink," which had no caffeine and about as much carbonization as a mud puddle, although it was more cloudy. It had the refreshing taste of citrus and gym socks and I guess it isn't around anymore either; thank you very much, Mountain Dew.

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Mountain Dew is the one in the ads where the kids pour it into their faces from about a foot away from their mouths. If I tried that, I'd have so much fizz in my eyeballs that a mosquito would look like a coon dog.

But it looks cool, and looking cool in ads is what the soft drink wars are all about. It's especially important to get children drinking a certain brand of cola or smoking a certain brand of cigarette at an early age because chances are that's what they will stick with the rest of their lives.

And that is why advertisers want to get into schools.

And schools are becoming more and more dependent on the advertiser's cash. In the book "Fast Food Nation," the principal of a Colorado high school all but admitted that if it weren't for Coke and McDonald's endorsements, the school's theology curriculum would basically consist of a Ouija board and a Jehovah's Witness pamphlet.

Smithsburg Principal Jeffrey Stouffer said that advertising "racks up some money real quick. They get something out of it and we get something out of it. It's a win-win."

I guess. And it's not like kids don't get assaulted by Madison Avenue at every turn anyhow. But there's still something a little weird about it, I think. I mean, when Miss Eichleburger welcomes ninth-graders into her Lay's Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips Principles of Accounting class, it just seems as if there may have been some other funding vehicles we've missed.

Both Coke and Pepsi have offers on the table at Smithsburg, which range from $1,200 to $1,500 a year, plus certain perks (maybe Maxwell House could get into the bidding - not as much money up front, but lots of perks. Um. I retract that joke.) such as scoreboards and, my favorite, "providing Powerade sports kits for the school's athletic teams."

I happen to be holding a Powerade bottle in my hand right now (that will be $50 please, Coke) and the label says it is "engineered to meet your hydration and energy needs head on."

So. Since when are drinks "engineered?" What, do I look like I'm building, a bridge? I was just thirsty and I grabbed the least-neon-colored fluid I could find - a chore in itself, these days. And now they're telling me it's been "engineered." Well, I don't want to drink anything that's been engineered. Sounds as if it could have rust or bearing grease in it.

And what's a Powerade "kit?" Do they give the kids the water and corn syrup and chemicals and they have to make their own Powerade?

Ah, but time passes me by again. Soon, Powerade signs and kits will be all over the schools, as well as ads for other products. Maybe newspapers will get into the act. Maybe they will even let me write the ad copy. I'm certain I could come up with something compelling, like "The Herald-Mail: Read It Or We'll Hit You."

Or maybe I should just go back to drinking water.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or you can e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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