The Player: Being first, moving fast is Burwick's strategy for Pepsi

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As a kid, Dave Burwick aspired to be a doctor, not an action hero.

Yet last month, the Harvard MBA in his sophomore year as chief marketer for Pepsi-Cola North America wanted to dramatize for bottlers the marketer's share battle against nemesis Coca-Cola Co. He donned a mask, cape and a pre-formed chest with six-pack abs to become the Caped Crusader and swung across the stage into a simulated fight skit in front of his entire bottling system.

Holy self-deprecation, Batman!

"We're traditional marketers but we're also non-traditional in how we think and how we do things," said Mr. Burwick, whose desire to innovate apparently knows no bounds. He takes the same approach to running the marketing unit of the world's No. 2 soft drink company. "Our vision is to innovate in everything we do. Sometimes we do well and sometimes we haven't," he said. "When we've got 80% of what we need to know, we move quickly. "

It's that philosophy that has driven a spate of inventive marketing moves since he was named CMO in June 2002.

"He symbolizes to me a lot of the good things that have gone on in Purchase over the last few years," said Tom Pirko, president of industry consultant BevMark. "He's young, open minded, willing to take chances. He's willing to risk failure and that's the mark of a good executive."

Last year, Mr. Burwick's team gambled on several ideas, including creating the "Pepsi Smash" music TV show and the Pepsi "Play for a Billion" game show, complete with its monkey host. "That was $5 million to $10 million that could have gone right into [gross rating points]," he said. He also helped his team move quickly in partnering with Apple's iTunes music download system to give away 100 million free downloads.

"If someone else had done something similar before us, we wouldn't have done it," he said, noting his "be first or don't do it" mantra.

Mr. Burwick also stewarded the fall "It's the Cola" effort for brand Pepsi from Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide to help stem the decline of the cola brands with a food-pairing position that once was owned by its Big Red rival.

"People expect Pepsi advertising to be primarily entertaining and secondly branding," he said. "People want Britney, Beyonce and Shakira," referring to previous Pepsi spokeswomen. After "It's the Cola" broke, he admits there was pressure to still use the divas in ads. "We just felt like it would be taking a step backwards in the U.S. It would be abandoning what we know would be the right strategy," he said. "I hope I don't eat those words later."

Pepsi-Cola Co.'s carbonated soft drink volume grew by 1.8% in 2003, driven largely by Sierra Mist, Diet Pepsi and Mountain Dew Live Wire, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. Volume of brand Pepsi fizzled by 4.5%.

Last month, the marketer beat Coke to the mid-calorie soft drink business in announcing the summer launch of Pepsi Edge. Because of his willingness to take risks and his team approach, Mr. Burwick is a much sought-after boss and mentor, according to those who work with him.

making mistakes

"Dave has a great marketing gut and he definitely pays attention to consumers and research, but he has a great eye for good strategy and good creative," said Cie Nicholson, Pepsi VP-flavors. "He's great at realizing that anytime you take a risk there's a chance of it not working out perfectly. ... People are not scared to take risks because of that." Mr. Burwick admits that the failed Pepsi Blue was a good example of a risk that didn't pay off. "The big mistake we made was in not being able to discern the excitement you get around novelty and the excitement around a more sustainable idea," he said.

One area where he's more conservative is on the ski slopes with his four kids, where he wears a helmet and stays off the half-pipe while snowboarding. One thing he won't do is drink anything from Coca-Cola. Nor will his kids. "My kids are so fanatically loyal to Pepsi, my No. 2 daughter has the neighbors petrified to buy any thing other than Pepsi," he said.

Résumé

Name: Dave Burwick

Age: 42

Now: Senior VP-chief marketing officer, Pepsi-Cola North America

Who: He was the U.S. unit's first CMO to be home grown from an entry level post, and has managed virtually every brand in Pepsi's portfolio.

Challenge: Mr. Burwick must keep Pepsi's increasingly complex portfolio relevant to a changing consumer base while adjusting to a more fragmented media landscape. He also must balance his attention between stabilizing brand Pepsi and other carbonated soft drinks.

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