Pioneering PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico Dies

Advertising Hall of Famer Was Cola Warrior Remembered For Breakthrough Marketing

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Former PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico
Former PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico Credit: PepsiCo

Roger Enrico, the former PepsiCo CEO and cola war warrior who oversaw breakthrough, entertainment-fueled marketing, has died.

Mr. Enrico, who was 71, spent 30 years at PepsiCo, including serving as CEO from 1996 to 2001, when he retired. His legacy includes overseeing ads that connected the cola to stars such as Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Lionel Richie via the "Choice of a New Generation" campaign.

"Today is an incredibly sad day for the PepsiCo family, for we have lost one of the true legends of our company and our industry," PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said in a statement. "Roger Enrico was, quite simply, one of the most creative marketers of his or any generation. He was a risk-taker, never afraid to challenge the status quo or make bold moves to get ahead. He was tough as nails, always prepared to get the job done and beat the competition. At the same time, he had a true love for our people and a passion for empowering them to reach their full potential."

Mr. Enrico's accomplishments include leading the company through a restructuring that emphasized snacks and beverages. In 1997 he spun off PepsiCo's restaurant division as an independent public company, creating what is now Yum Brands. Under his leadership the company acquired Tropicana in 1998 and The Quaker Oats Co., including Gatorade, in 2000.

But in marketing circles he will be remembered for his advertising acumen.

"He showcased PepsiCo brands by building memorable advertising around America's leading entertainment figures at the peak of their careers," according to a bio from the American Advertising Federation's Advertising Hall of Fame, which inducted him as a member in 2005. "As a result, he greatly influenced advertising by positioning popular music as an integral part of many high-profile marketing campaigns. In today's market this type of 'brandertainment' is standard fare, yet it was groundbreaking when Enrico initiated it."

Mr. Enrico was instrumental in tapping Mr. Jackson as a brand spokesman, working alongside then-Pepsi marketing chief Alan Pottasch and BBDO's Phil Dusenberry. As CEO of PepsiCo's Frito-Lay, he signed off on Chevy Chase as Doritos spokesman, according to this 1996 account in Ad Age.

In a 1997 column, Ad Age Editor-in-Chief Rance Crain referred to Mr. Enrico as "the man most responsible for the company's powerful advertising," citing ads such as a Rold Gold spot starring Jason Alexander a former high school nerd who outdoes the jock and wins the girl.

Mr. Enrico literally wrote the book on the cola wars, authoring "The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars." The book, which published in 1986, was an insider's account in PepsiCo's battle with Coca-Cola, including the New Coke debacle. When new Coke first hit the shelves, PepsiCo ran a full-page newspaper ad that quoted Mr. Enrico saying, ''After 87 years of going at it eyeball to eyeball, the other guy just blinked. There is no question the long term market success of Pepsi has forced this move.''

Coke, of course, remains the top-selling cola brand today. But PepsiCo's marketing under Mr. Enrico was widely deemed successful.

Former BBDO CEO Allen Rosenshine in an interview Thursday recalled how closely Mr. Enrico worked with the agency. "As the chief executive officer, he was nonetheless looking at storyboards [and was] very personally and intimately involved in the strategic development of the advertising, as well as its actual executions," he said.

He added: "His leadership in the resurgence of the Pepsi brand in bringing Michael Jackson to the marketing plan and the advertising and his overall leadership in creating for Pepsi a positioning that distinguishes it ultimately from Coca-Cola is one of the great marketing successes in American business."

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent in a statement said: "Roger was a fierce competitor and a passionate ambassador and champion for his company and our industry. All of us at Coca-Cola offer our deepest condolences to Roger's family and the PepsiCo family during this time of sadness and loss. Roger was not only an innovative marketer and inspirational leader but a true friend who challenged us all to compete harder and think bigger. I consider myself fortunate and honored to call him a friend since we met in 1990. We will all miss Roger dearly in every respect."

Mr. Enrico was born in 1944 in Chisholm, Minn., the son of the foreman at an iron-ore processing plant. He volunteered in the Navy and served in Vietnam. He "liked to say that transporting fuel in Vietnam was his first lesson in 'delivering precious liquids to his consumers,'" according to a bio provided by PepsiCo to Ad Age.

He joined PepsiCo in 1971 as a brand manager at Frito-Lay. "He played a major role in PepsiCo's growth, ran five of our operating divisions and became the only PepsiCo executive in our history to serve as CEO of our snacks, beverages and restaurants businesses," according to the PepsiCo bio.

After his retirement in 2001, he served as chairman of the board for DreamWorks Animation and was a board member of the National Geographic Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the American Film Institute.

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