CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - TETRA PAK. Can advertising ever turn a carton into a consumer brand? Glen Mutel reports

It's only two months in, but 2003 is already turning into a vintage year for big-brand creative reviews. Over the coming weeks, results are eagerly awaited on the British Gas, BT, Woolworths, Royal Mail and Tetra Pak pitches. Hang on. Can you spot the odd one out?

As the producer of almost half of the world's milk cartons, Tetra Pak is an unlikely advertiser. Its need for business-to-business promotion is obvious, but, surely, brand awareness advertising would just be an unnecessary expense?

Apparently not. For not only is the Swedish company looking for a creative agency, but it also has £5 million to spend on advertising. Its objective is not only to make UK consumers aware of the Tetra Pak brand, but to make them actively seek out food products that use Tetra Pak packaging.

It sounds like a tall order. It's hard to imagine consumers giving a second thought as to who made the packaging that contains the milk and the soup they buy. Nevertheless, there is some precedent here.

In 2002, the Portuguese Cork Association launched a multimillion-pound advertising campaign in the UK and Australia in a bid to counter a shift towards screw-top caps or plastic stoppers for wine.

The association was also aiming to counter bad publicity concerning corked wine. As well as marketing, it announced new research projects and changes to its code of practice.

Tetra Pak has similarly combined a new-found marketing ambition with product innovation, and, during the past four years, has increased the number of pack designs it produces from 28 to 40 per year. However, unlike the Portuguese Cork Association, Tetra Pak has neither tradition nor romance on its side.

Instead, Tetra Pak is looking to the computer hardware maker Intel as its example. Thanks to the labours of its advertising agency, Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, Intel's Pentium processors are almost as famous as the PCs they are part of.

This was achieved through a combination of Intel's own brand awareness campaigns and the "Intel inside" co-operative campaigns, which, by targeting consumers, created a demand for PC makers to use Intel chips.

Brendan Tansey, Euro RSCG's worldwide regional brand director for Intel, says: "There was a time when no-one knew what a processor was. However, there were a few powerful adherents at Intel who understood the power of branding. They saw an opportunity to make this a consumer product."

Intel's advertising is given an extra boost by the company's use of sonic branding. Whenever a PC manufacturer or a computer retailer ad mentions one of Intel's products, the reference is followed by the company's famous four-note jingle and a graphic containing the endline "Intel inside".

Will Tetra Pak need to go to these lengths if it is to win over consumers? Is third-party advertising crucial to its success?

Tansey thinks so. "I believe this is the best way to advertise products like this," he says. "The endorsement is absolutely invaluable as it proliferates the message in a context that enables the consumer to see the value of the product."

If Tetra Pak were to follow Intel's example fully, this would mean sharing the advertising spotlight with clients such as the Covent Garden Soup Company. However, this would only work if Tetra Pak could persuade these companies to advertise on a scale consistent with its own ambitions.

The fact is Tetra Pak has a very different product to Intel. Consumers can be forgiven for thinking it more important to get the right parts in their £1,000 computers than it is to get the right packaging for a £2 carton of soup. If they are to replicate the success of companies such as Dolby and Intel, both Tetra Pak and its future ad agency will have their work cut out.