CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/COCA-COLA - Coke loses its slick values to make its new ads more realistic, Glen Mutel writes

Coca-Cola is the last brand you'd associate with reality. Over the past 20 years, its clean-cut ads have borne as much relation to everyday life as a P Diddy music promo.

But this is set to change. In the UK, the brand is looking to Mother for fresh ideas. And in the US, Coke has partnered with Berlin Cameron/Red Cell to produce a very unlikely series of ads.

The Coca-Cola "real" campaign comprises a group of TV ads that are held together only by their desire to present the brand as an authentic part of day-to-day living.

Gone are the vacuous collages, the quick edits, the rock soundtracks and the slow-motion sequences, and though more than half of the ads feature celebrities, Coke has ensured that they are presented in a distinctly unglamorous manner. Slick perfection in directing has been replaced with the informal style of Traktor and David Fincher.

In one ad, the camera lingers on the actress Penelope Cruz as she polishes off a bottle of Coke in one prolonged gulp. The effect is edgy and uncomfortable.

The ad ends with Cruz burping for the benefit of onlookers. Courtney Cox-Arquette is seen bickering with her husband in another spot.

This change in direction has been motivated by the fact that, despite still being by far the biggest soft drink in the US, Coke has recently lost some ground to rivals; this is compounded by the rise in popularity of alternatives such as bottled water. The situation hasn't been helped by a near decade-long run of disappointing US campaigns.

"Something definitely had to be done," Paul Cappelli, the president and founder of the New York-based The Ad Store, says. "Coke commercials recently have become what I would call McCommercials. You eat them, shit them out and then they're gone forever."

Cappelli worked on Coke in the 80s as the creative director at McCann-Erickson. While he acknowledges that changes had to be made, he still doesn't feel that the right strategy is being pursued.

"This 'real' theme does not have any life outside of the fact that Coke is a competitive line against Pepsi. Once that competition has gone, 'real' loses any validity."

While many in the US press have baulked at the idea of an ad declaring itself real, the ads are generating more than their fair share of PR.

They also deliver on their brief in that they are certainly less polished then their predecessors. The key to this lies in subtle detail, be it an over-long camera shot, a set of braces or a T-shirt worn inside out.

Richard Halpern is a professor of mass communications at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a former advisor to the Coca-Cola marketing department. He is impressed with the new attitude of the company towards its marketing.

"The new administration at Coke recognises that ads have to be designed with each individual market in mind if it is to resonate with the culture of that market. For a very long time Coke had a one-size-fits-all attitude to advertising."

Encouraging, perhaps, but this may mean that the ads don't make it across the Atlantic. Coca-Cola UK's official position is that it's undecided.

If the ads fail to make it over here it would be a shame. If there is any market that would appreciate a campaign as stripped down as this, it's the British one.