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Pepsi drivers with trucks.

As PepsiCo Inc. rolls out a North America-wide campaign to freshen its brand, Quebec is getting the distinct society treatment.

Next week, Pepsi will unveil the latest batch in a decades-long string of made-in-Quebec ads - a hugely successful targeting strategy that has helped give the soft-drink maker a lock on this unique market.

Pepsi says it handily beats archrival Coca-Cola Co. in share of market in the province - in stark contrast to its No. 2 status just about everywhere else on the planet.

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The key to Pepsi's popularity in La belle province has been its close attention to the Quebec consumer's sensibilities and sense of humour, unlike many other global companies that make do with minor variations - translated into French - of their national and international ads.

In its latest marketing push, Pepsi will play up the fact that the bottling plant it opened in Montreal in 1934 was its first facility outside the United States, a historical tidbit highlighting its long-time role as a Quebec player.

Pepsi will also stress its commitment to the province with next week's unveiling of a new bottling plant in northwest Montreal, part of a $40-million investment.

The promotional efforts are part of a larger North American rollout of a new corporate logo and look that includes an ad campaign on the theme of "spreading joy and optimism."

Pepsi's new TV ads will celebrate its 75 years in Quebec by touching on some of the key events in the province's modern history.

The ads will include references to the ground-breaking Pepsi television spots in the 1980s that featured popular Quebec comic Claude Meunier, who created a series of Pepsi-loving characters (an aspiring hockey player, a rocker, a sophisticated cosmopolitan). A rising star on the comedy club circuit, he connected with viewers who shared his wacky sense of humour.

"We were one of the first multinationals to adapt our marketing to Quebec's specificity, with the Meunier ads," says Sylvain Charbonneau, Quebec vice-president and general manager of Pepsi Bottling Group.

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The momentum to beat Coke really got going with the Meunier pitches in the 1980s, he said. "We've won share over Coke over those 25 years."

Pepsi now boasts a 60-per-cent market share for its Pepsi family of soft drinks on retailers' shelves, compared with 25 per cent for the Coke brands.

Coca-Cola Canada Ltd. spokesman David Moran says the gap is not that large. "When you include restaurants, hotels and sporting and other events, the numbers become a lot closer," he said, declining to provide specific data.

Mr. Charbonneau says Pepsi's current goal is to strengthen the connection that exists between Quebeckers and the brand.

One way to do that is to maintain a robust commitment to the relatively small Quebec market, in terms of spending on advertising, sponsorship and marketing efforts, while Pepsi cuts spending in other regions in the economic downturn, he said.

The new TV spots, produced by BBDO Montréal, will steer clear of any politically sensitive historical events, although Mr. Charbonneau would not divulge more details than that.

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Eric Blais, head of Toronto-based Headspace Marketing, which provides advice to outsiders on how to market to Quebeckers, says Pepsi's success in the province is a phenomenon that goes well beyond smart brand building.

"Pepsi has established very strong relationships at the community level, with the bottlers in the regions, and a lot of sports and cultural sponsorships," he noted.

For example, Pepsi will have float in the St-Jean-Baptiste parade later this month, marking Quebec's national holiday.

Pepsi has been very clever at not only weaving itself into Quebec society but also tweaking its message to keep up with changing times, Mr. Blais said.

Recent ads, for instance, feature a more ethnically diverse group of young people remarking humorously on Quebec particularities such as the fondness for poutine and the thousands of people who move apartments on the same day each year (July 1).

Going forward, Mr. Blais wonders if Pepsi will need to dial down the Quebec-centric message to avoid alienating a new generation of multicultural Quebeckers.

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"The younger generation is much more hooked to the rest of the world. They're proud of being a Quebecker but many of them view it as just the place they happen to be now."

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