MARKETING SUPERSTARS;MAMBO;ATILIO GHIO

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LIMA-Atilio Ghio was once so desperate for a product to compete against the leading local powder orange drink that he ran packages of fantasy-flavor Kool-Aid through airport customs in his suitcase. Then his colleague Cesar Benavides said, "Why not mix natural flavors?"

And Mambo was born. Eighteen months later, Nabisco Royal's natural fruit-flavor drink has danced away with the local market and is poised for a regional launch.

Mambo boasts a unique mixed-flavor taste, but its packaging and marketing are also new to Peru-influenced by MTV, with neon color and shimmering fruit icons.

Mr. Ghio, 36, F&R/Nabisco Peru's Mambo marketing director, attributes its success to its modern personality.

Mambo also bodes well for Nabisco's Royal division, hoping to strengthen its position in Latin America. Mr. Ghio is consulting with Nabisco on the drink's rollout in five countries this year. The mix will lead a new push at globalizing local brands.

Peru had been a tough market for the powder drink segment, led by local distributor Richard O. Custer's Tang brand. The segment collapsed after a deadly cholera epidemic several years ago.

Peruvians stopped drinking water and other non-bottled liquids after the viral outbreak, but by 1993 began treating local water supplies and returned to powder orange drinks, now with ASA Alimentos' local Canu leading in sales. F&R/Nabisco Peru rolled out a rival that couldn't compete.

Then Mr. Ghio saw inspiration in a Miami gas-mart, selling Kool-Aid in fantasy flavors. But Nabisco rejected his purchases as too artificial for Peruvian tastes, following consumer tests: The Amazon jungle offered delicious, natural competition. So Mr. Benavides, 25, Mambo's brand manager, suggested mixing natural flavors.

Mr. Ghio tested powder mixed-fruit juice drinks among Lima consumers and got the thumbs-up from a resounding 93% of taste-test participants. Nabisco poured out several flavor blends, including mango-peach and chicha-pineapple.

A hip drink for a hip crowd, Mambo quickly captured 50% of the sweetened powder drink mix market in the four months after its January 1994 rollout. Sales are expected to hit $7.5 million this year-half of Nabisco Royal's Peru sales.

"We designed a personality [for Mambo] that was completely different," Mr. Ghio said of the innovative campaign by J. Walter Thompson Co., with a Wired-style sensibility.

The initial campaign spent $380,000, with $300,000 of it on TV spots. Mayo/FCB now handles.

New flavors will capitalize on that trend with mixes of Amazon fruit such as cherimoya, and possibly even the exotic rain forest fruit camu camu.

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