That ultimatum might have sent a more conventional Procter & Gamble Co. executive into the fetal position, but Mr. Dufresne enjoyed the challenge. "I wanted the high risk, high reward," he said. He eked out a profit in the remaining eight months of fiscal 1991 and ultimately helped transform Pringles from P&G's $200-million-a-year Edsel into a $1.5 billion global brand.
GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN
Mr. Dufresne's work notwithstanding, P&G tried to spin off Pringles into a joint venture with Coca-Cola Co., which has since been scaled back to talks on a joint distribution deal. And Mr. Dufresne is gone anyway, but not forgotten. In June he became managing director of BrandStorm, the new-product-consulting unit of Northlich, Cincinnati, whose work has included developing such P&G products as Swiffer WetJet and advising the team that acquired Iams pet food in 1999.
Just as the scope of BrandStorm's consulting practice is an oddity among ad agency consulting units, Mr. Dufresne was far from a typical P&Ger. After graduating from Dartmouth, he spurned business school to join P&G's paper sales force. In the 1980s, when P&G's caste system was far less flexible than today, he switched to brand management, leaving an executive sales post to start over as brand assistant.
He ultimately became general manager of the juice business in 1995, helping turn Hawaiian Punch from a money loser to a brand with better-than-company-average margins. Then he cashed out of P&G in 1999 after P&G cashed out of Hawaiian Punch by selling it, starting a consulting practice that included BrandStorm as a major client.
"My approach to branding is a bit more aggressive than some of my peers at P&G," he said. "I really think that you need to create and strive for real disruption in your marketing programs. ... You need to include both emotional benefits and rational, product-based benefits."
He pushed the envelope with Pringles, getting dispensation from then VP-Advertising Ross Love to show a bag of rival Lay's potato chips on TV and airing commercials from Bcom3 Group's N.W. Ayer & Partners, Los Angeles, with rap music and no words. "I remember thinking, `If this doesn't work, I am so dead,"' he said, but the ads produced what were then the highest copy test scores in P&G history.
"One of the reasons we brought Jeff into our team is not only that he's charismatic and has rigorous marketing discipline, but he's also intellectually aggressive," said Mark Serriane, CEO of Northlich.
While BrandStorm's practice is still heavily in package goods, Mr. Dufresne sees the unit branching more into other areas, including financial services, technology and apparel, such as current work for Speedo.
"Procter's a wonderful system, but you get vertically siloed," he said. "I knew everything about junk food and junk juice, but I didn't have the breadth across industries."