Cindy Alston

CMO, Gatorade and Propel

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For a brand that owns 80% of the market, as Gatorade does, complacency must hold a certain amount of appeal. Why bother to change when things are going so darn well? True innovation is for the guys struggling to get to the top, not for those already there. Right?
Cindy Alston, CMO, Gatorade and Propel
Cindy Alston, CMO, Gatorade and Propel Credit: Callie Lipkin

Not so, said Cindy Alston, CMO of Gatorade and Propel, who has led the PepsiCo unit through its most noteworthy launches and campaigns. Witness the company's launch of Propel

Fitness Water, which took Gatorade out of its comfort zone -- where it had happily resided since 1967 -- to offer vitamin-enhanced water to fitness devotees. "Part of what made that launch truly innovative was the notion that we could create a new brand, and that we could go outside of our core competencies and demonstrate a knowledge in people who may not play team sports but are interested in leading an active lifestyle," Ms. Alston said. "It was scary and exciting all at the same time." It also became one of the most triumphant launches in the beverage industry in recent years.

Next up was the launch earlier this year of a version of Gatorade with a cleaner, lighter finish. "Rain was an example of really mining our consumers for insight about what they were looking for," Ms. Alston said.

"Cindy and the other members of the marketing and insights team are constantly in touch with their core consumer," said John Fraser, exec VP-business strategy for Element79 Partners and the man in charge of the Gatorade account for the past seven years.

The biggest challenge came in putting together packaging and advertising to emphasize both the product's originality and its adherence to the original formula. With those pieces in place, Rain became the company's most successful sub-line launch to date.

It was even earlier in Ms. Alston's tenure that the company reworked the advertising campaign for the Gatorade brand. The old campaign ("Life is a sport. Drink it up.") was thriving and was still just a toddler, having been in place only two years. Then FCB, Chicago -- the agency at the time -- suggested the "Is it in you?" campaign, featuring athletes bleeding, sweating and crying in Gatorade's signature colors. "It was a little scary, seeing big posters of athletes bleeding green and crying orange and sweating purple," Ms. Alston said. The brand gave the nod to the posters and ended up with a campaign that has stood for eight years and is still going strong. "That was one of our most innovative launches because we started from a position of strength and said, 'But it's still okay to do something different and change,'" Ms. Alston said.

"Cindy has always believed that a good idea can come from anywhere and encourages everyone connected to the business to contribute," Mr. Fraser said. "She believes that new ideas need support to be successful. 'Fostering the newborn' is critical."

That belief shows itself in Ms. Alston's ability to listen carefully to others' ideas and encourage them to take risks, even if those risks backfire. "Because we have such a strong brand equity, most mistakes we make in the marketplace aren't going to crush us," Ms. Alston said.

In that same spirit, she invites dialogue between old-timers -- she's been at the company 20 years -- and newcomers who bring a fresh perspective. Together they find ways to innovate without deviating from the brand's history and image. "We're always challenging ourselves to be true to who we are but finding new ways to deliver on that," she said.
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