By that definition, Coca-Cola Co.'s Sergio Zyman, PepsiCo's Alan Pottasch, Quaker Oats Co.'s Don Uzzi and Anheuser-Busch's Tony Ponturo loom large for both their power and their influence. Not only do they collectively oversee a heavy flow of marketing spending-nearly $2 billion in the U.S. alone-but the brands they shepherd are among the most dominant in the marketplace.
Even Quaker's Snapple, though under heavy fire from competitors-including Coke and Pepsi-remains a market leader in the ready-to-drink juice/tea segment of the beverage business.
Coke and Pepsi's flagship brands own two-thirds of the U.S. soft-drink market, and Quaker's Gatorade holds 80% of the sport-drink category. A-B is longtime leader among U.S. brewers.
It obviously contributes to their clout that their brands are perceived as pioneers and as omnipresent advertisers, a permanent part of the American landscape.
That gives Messrs. Zyman, Pottasch, Uzzi and Ponturo marketing power, but it's their role in building these brands that makes marketers from all industries pay attention to their every move.
Mr. Zyman, 50, chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola Co., was largely responsible for two of the biggest product launches ever attempted in the beverage industry: Diet Coke and, yes, New Coke.
The first created a huge new segment of the soft-drink business, while the second created a textbook case of how not to fiddle with a successful brand.
New Coke, a 1985 attempt to replace the flagship product with a sweeter formula, resulted in such hue and cry among the public that the company ended up keeping a rechristened Coca-Cola Classic, the original formula, on the market.
The launch and failure of what is now known as New Coke has come to stand for something many marketers would once have thought impossible: that top marketers can make colossal mistakes, admit and correct them, and live happily ever after. That's exactly what happened to Mr. Zyman.
The costly mid-'80s failure in essence drove him out of Coca-Cola Co., but not for long. In August 1993, Mr. Zyman not only returned to the company but in the stunningly high-level position of chief marketing officer.
That spectacular comeback explains in part why every decision Mr. Zyman makes nowadays is followed closely throughout the marketing world.
And his decisions come fast and furious.
Before even officially rejoining the company, he put Diet Coke's ad account into review, eventually moving the $70 million account to Lowe & Partners from sister Interpublic shop Lintas. Within a week of returning, he engineered a sweeping reorganization of the marketing department, putting several key Coca-Cola USA executives into his domain.
He then began to open up the marketer's traditionally closed agency ranks to newcomers. That process was begun just before his return with the controversial hiring of Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists Agency to handle creative for Coca-Cola Classic, removing longtime agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide from that function.
Today, he works with one of the largest agency rosters in the business.
There is a career parallel between Mr. Zyman and PepsiCo's Alan Pottasch; both left their companies and returned. For much different reasons, however.
Unlike Mr. Zyman, Mr. Pottasch left his longtime employer in glory three years ago-via retirement. But he continued to consult for Pepsi and, as a result, was gradually drawn back into the fold. He now is senior VP-PepsiCo Foods & Beverages International, one of three positions within the holding company for such giant brands as Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Taco Bell and others (see accompanying story, at left).
As the man who has guided Pepsi's image for three decades, Mr. Pottasch has shown how great the power of advertising can be.
Pepsi is now drawing on his experience and expertise to use that power overseas.
Residing in Mr. Uzzi's international powerhouse is Gatorade, now Quaker Oats' single biggest brand with $1.2 billion in sales, a $100 million marketing budget and distribution in 26 countries.
The 43-year-old executive has been at Quaker less than two years, but the company's beverage sales have increased by more than 50% in that time-thanks also to the acquisition of Snapple Beverages in November 1994.
With that deal, Mr. Uzzi turned a one-brand division into a $2 billion company that dominates the non-carbonated beverage industry.
That dominance has lured dozens of competitors into the marketplace, from small regional juicemakers to Pepsi and Coke-after having long ignored the segment. Hammered by the competition, Gatorade did suffer volume loss early this year, but Mr. Uzzi is marshalling a strong comeback.
The company, one of the key "endorsees" of basketball superstar Michael Jordan with its earlier "Be Like Mike" campaign for Gatorade, was among the first to jump on his return-to-basketball bandwagon, stepping up its ad schedule to take advantage of its association with Mr. Jordan.
Mr. Uzzi also worked to link Gatorade even closer to sports, with such marketing innovations as a one-time custom magazine from Sports Illustrated tied to the NBA and sponsored solely by Gatorade.
While the $1.7 billion price tag for Snapple and the company's distribution woes have taken heat this year, marketing observers are betting that Quaker and Mr. Uzzi can work their beverage magic on that brand, too.
At the very least, Snapple is assuring Mr. Uzzi one of the more challenging marketing jobs around.
Interestingly, those first three beverage-category power players spent some of their formative years at Pepsi. The fourth, Tony Ponturo, spent some of his early career at Pepsi agency BBDO Worldwide (as well as Coke agency McCann-Erickson).
Mr. Ponturo, also 43, is the king of beers, as Anheuser-Busch's VP of corporate media and sports marketing. He also serves as president-CEO of the brewing giant's in-house media buying operation.
He controls in one way or another most of the final advertising and sponsorship decisions for the beer industry's largest advertiser-with an estimated $511 million marketing budget at his disposal given his buying responsiblity for A-B's Entertainment units, the Busch Garden and Sea World theme parks.
Since A-B plans and buys virtually all of its own media, Mr. Ponturo sits in the catbird's seat at one of the country's biggest sports advertisers. His strength is especially important in sports programming.
The former agency executive is the key negotiator for A-B's event sponsorship contracts and overseer of production of TV sports events for Busch Media Group, including games of the company-owned St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
A heavy hitter indeed.
Ira Teinowitz contributed to this story.
Ad budget: $307 million
Career: Mr. Ponturo joined A-B as director of media services in 1982 from former Budweiser agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, where he had served as VP-national TV. Interestingly Mr. Ponturo's first job was working for a TV network-he served as a page at NBC from 1974 to 1976.
Ad budget: $270 million
Agency roster: McCann-Erickson Worldwide; Creative Artists Agency; Leo Burnett Co.; Lowe & Partners/SMS; Wieden & Kennedy; Fallon McElligott; Martin Agency; Burrell Communications; Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates; Publicis-Conseil; McKinney & Silver; Ad Store.
Career: A native of Mexico, Mr. Zyman started his marketing career with Procter & Gamble Co. in Mexico City in 1968 as brand manager. From there he went to work for PepsiCo as VP-marketing for Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, and president and general manager, Brazil. In 1978, he moved to Purchase, N.Y., to become director of marketing for the Pepsi brand. He jumped ship for Coca-Cola in 1979.
Quaker Oats Co.
Ad budget: $40 million
Agency roster: Bayer Bess Vanderwarker; Kirshenbaum & Bond.
Career: Mr. Uzzi joined Quaker Oats in 1994 as president of Gatorade U.S. and Canada. Following Quaker's acquisition of Snapple Beverages in November 1994, he became president of Quaker Oats Beverages-North America, the fourth-largest non-alcoholic beverage company in the country. He came to Quaker from Pepsi, where he held several posts over seven years. Prior to that, he worked in sales and marketing for 11 years at Procter & Gamble Co.