ATLANTA -- Coca-Cola says you should drink its diet brand not because you're worried about a few pounds but because -- well, doggone it, just because you feel good about yourself.
The new advertising campaign for Diet Coke urges: "Live your life." It's a theme of "enjoyment, personal choice, being confident with yourself -- live life on your own terms," explained Jan Hall, global brand director for Coca-Cola's no-calorie soft drink.
The new campaign, which will debut in national television commercials Jan. 4, succeeds the "You are what you drink" commercials that began in 1997. Those spots depicted Diet Coke as making women more attractive.
The new campaign is "perhaps less focused on some of the shape and calorie benefits of the brand," said Ian Rowden, Coke's director of advertising.
"Looking good is important," Ms. Hall said Tuesday. "But it's more important to feel good."
The campaign grew from research involving 3,600 interviews with consumers in the United States and eight other countries, Coke said. Its theme targets adult men and women "who are happy with themselves and the choices they make," the company said in a statement.
The theme reflects societal change from the 1980s, when comedian Billy Crystal's "Fernando" character on Saturday Night Live proclaimed: "It's better to look good than to feel good."
"As we get a little older, these baby boomers who were the `Me Generation' of the '80s are kind of looking down and saying, `A few extra pounds isn't so bad,"' said Tom Agan of Kurt Salmon Associates, an Atlanta-based retail consulting firm. "They're more likely to want something good for themselves."
Diet products often carry a negative image, he said, and it makes sense to offer them as a reward.
"I think there's no question that if you focus on self-esteem, it's much more positive and you get them to purchase more," Agan said.
In one commercial, developed with the Wieden & Kennedy agency, a woman is in the middle of answering questions for a video dating service. Then, while sipping her Diet Coke, she agrees with a suggestion that she already has "a pretty good life" -- and disappears without completing the interview.
Coke said its diet drink has had a strong year, with U.S. unit case sales up 4 percent through November and increases of about double that worldwide.
Ms. Hall said the new campaign is not a reaction to rival Pepsico's new diet drink, Pepsi One, which has gotten off to a good start after two months of heavy advertising and price discounts.
Rowden said the new theme simply shows "the ongoing evolution of strategic thinking we've had for Diet Coke and more learning" about its consumers.
And Ms. Hall said the "feeling good" approach should broaden Diet Coke's appeal, particularly for men.
Coke research is also behind a related promotion that begins Feb. 1 in which 12- and 24-packs of Diet Coke will carry pocket-sized excerpts of new books from best-selling authors such as Elmore Leonard, Nora Roberts and Barbara Taylor Bradford. Surveys showed Diet Coke drinkers tend to be book readers.
"(Diet Coke drinkers) told us that living their lives to the fullest often means taking time out to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like reading," said Frank Bifulco, vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola USA.