Coca-Cola Loses North America Marketing Exec

Pio Schunker to Leave After 10 Years with the Company

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Pio Schunker, one of Coca-Cola's top North America marketing execs, is leaving the company.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman confirmed the move but declined to offer any additional details. It's expected Mr. Schunker won't land in a new post immediately, but given his background, he'd be an attractive hire for both big marketers and agencies.

Pio Schunker preps for Super Bowl 2013.
Pio Schunker preps for Super Bowl 2013. Credit: Reed Young

Mr. Schunker joined Coca-Cola in 2003 from Ogilvy, New York and most recently held the role of senior VP-integrated marketing communications for the Coca-Cola North America Group.

Under his purview, Coca-Cola has become a more modern brand. He was involved in the brand's packaging overhaul five years ago, stripping the iconic Coke packaging back to simple red and white -- eliminating drop shadows, gradients and the like. He's pushed the brand to embrace more digital and social creative, and most recently, he's sought to inject a bit more fun into the 127-year-old brand.

"There's a lot more fun to the brand over the last two years. You're so used to seeing us do big spots like 'Videogame' or 'It's Mine,' which are absolutely things we will always continue to do," Mr. Schunker told Ad Age earlier this year. "But that's mostly what people think of us as -- we make these big epic spots. We really wanted to get back to talking about the product itself as the ultimate refreshment. We wanted to do it in a way that was more fun, surprising, funny."

Coca-Cola has been a staple in the Super Bowl and Mr. Schunker was heavily involved in planning the beverage giant's approach to the game. And he helped usher in real-time marketing advances and interactive TV ads to the Super Bowl for the first time.

In 2012, the Polar Bowl ran alongside the Super Bowl, featuring Coca-Cola's iconic polar bears -- one cheering for the Patriots, the other for the Giants -- reacting to the game, the commercials and the halftime show in real time.

This year, Coke took a different approach to Super Bowl, seeking to ensure that the brand capitalized on the engagement generated during the big game. "Mirage" -- a choose-your-own-adventure series of ads where consumers picked the ending -- became a springboard for activities throughout the year, all of which embraced the idea of Coke as the ultimate refreshment. For example, a campaign targeting teens was dubbed "The Ahh Effect" and built upon the audiences attracted during "Mirage" through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube.

Agency Impact

Another big part of Mr. Schunker's duties has been assembling the right team of agencies and design firms for the Coca-Cola trademark, which over the past decade has included a range of shops such as independent Wieden & Kennedy, MDC Partners' CPB, Dentsu-owned 360i, Droga5 and Turner Duckworth. (His former agency, WPP-owned Ogilvy also works for the company, though largely in global markets.)

Having spent time on Madison Avenue, Mr. Schunker has been adamant that the value of agencies stems from them challenging marketers, not just being "yes men."

As BusinessWeek described a few years ago in a profile of Mr. Schunker: "The big networks, he says, were just giving Coke what they thought it wanted, not what they them­selves believed in. He wanted to work with agencies and design studios who would, rather than simply 'stick around for the pay cheque', believe in what they were doing and walk away if they didn't get to do it. He is adamant that he doesn't want yes men, willing to do anything that the client wants, but strong-willed, committed people who are unafraid to express an opinion: 'You want an agency to act as your conscience,' he says, to say 'that's crap, you shouldn't do that, we're not doing it.' We value them far more if they value themselves—if they just become doormats we lose respect for them."

Mr. Schunker has been especially close to Wieden & Kennedy and a champion for the shop's work, having appointed the agency in 2005.

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