The Player: Oza wants Vitaminwater to be a 'category creator'

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Rohan Oza may not be a wunderkind, but he's not far from it.

At 21, he ran production for M&M/Mars' second largest brand in Europe-Snickers; by his 28th birthday, he was steering two of Coca-Cola Co.'s most important brands, and at the wizened age of 31, he's senior VP-marketing at Energy Brands' Glaceau Vitaminwater, one of the top brands in the fledgling $120 million category of vitamin-enhanced waters.

Reared in the mist of Victoria Falls, the third generation Zambian studied manufacturing, industrial engineering and operations management in the U.K. Fresh out of university, he snagged a spot in an accelerated management program with Mars in London. He got his MBA at the University of Michigan in 1997 and then moved on to Atlanta and Coca-Cola Co.

"I have sort of a love affair with image-based marketing," he said. "I thought beverages were a really exciting field to be in-even before business school."

Mr. Oza spent two and a half years on Sprite, launching two urban marketing initiatives, signing (before they were hot) female hip-hop sensation Eve and Kobe Bryant, who had just turned pro.

When Mr. Oza joined Powerade in 2000, Gatorade was eating its lunch. In came new graphics, flavors and agency. Out was Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, in was Portland, Ore.-indy Wieden & Kennedy and 2001's "Very real power" campaign. Under Mr. Oza's 2000 to 2002 tenure, Powerade gained two points on the category granddaddy and saw volume grow 20% to 30%, according to Information Resources Inc. (Despite the bump in sales, Gatorade still outsells Powerade nearly 6 to 1.)

Now at the privately held Energy Brands in Whitestone, N.Y., his 14-flavor brand pokes fun at the likes of PepsiCo's Gatorade, each label bearing stories refusing to be the "official water of anything" or to succumb to commercialism (unless a lot of money is involved). Marketing is grassroots, but summer will bring a campaign aimed at coastal strongholds. New York's Lloyd & Co. is the ad agency.

"He'll be scrappy. He'll put Glaceau on the map. He'll completely break all the rules and do it in a way that no one would expect. He's a guerilla street-fighter marketer," said Patrick Meyer, CEO of WPP Group's Fusion5, which worked with Mr. Oza on Coca-Cola products.

Mr. Oza demurred from the notion that the maverick nature that led to success at Coke was leading him to a dead end. He said he felt the time was right for Vitaminwater, which allowed him to create a brand, not just build one. He joined in August and totes samples of the 125-calorie nutrient-enhanced water everywhere, handing them to everyone from flight attendants to restaurant owners.

"Every now and then, a brand comes along that is so perfect for consumers," he said citing Gatorade in the `70s and `80s, Snapple in the `80s and early `90s and Red Bull at the end of the go-go decade. "Everyone knows they should be drinking eight glasses of water. ... The opportunity within water is so large," he said.

Fast Facts

Name: Rohan Oza

Age: 31

Now: Senior VP- marketing at Glaceau Vitaminwater.

Challenge: To build Glaceau Vitaminwater into a category creator the likes of Gatorade, Snapple and Red Bull.

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