The Player: Sands takes nontraditional tack with underdog Snapple

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If you don't already know Michael Sands, you may not recognize him when he is inducted Nov. 18 to the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement.

That's because attendees of the event honoring marketers under age 40 won't see the typical three-minute video chronicling his ascent into the marketing elite. Sure, the video will likely span his childhood in St. Paul, Minn., his marketing education at Babson College and his career at Labatt USA's Rolling Rock, Ben & Jerry's and of course, his rescue of the once near-death Snapple brand. It's just that Mr. Sands will be personified by the bottle version of himself-like those in the Snapple commercials-sporting his signature tuft of reddish-brown hair and one of his many golf sweaters. Anything but a non-traditional roast "just wasn't going to work," said Steve Jarmon, VP-partner marketing for Snapple, who nominated Mr. Sands. "He loves to say, `This is a great first pass,' but let's not end here."

It's a fitting tribute for a guy with a track record for offbeat marketing that goes back to his first company, a lawn service called Sands Sno' and Mo' when he was 15 years old. "I borrowed $2,500 at the prime rate, 18% at the time, and I sold it four years later for $10,000," said Mr. Sands, who persevered through equipment failures and bad weather. "It just showed me early on even when you get into a bad situation, there is a way out and you can make it work. You just have to look and think hard enough."

That entrepreneurial spirit has been the undercurrent of his marketing philosophy. "I've always taken the toughest jobs," Mr. Sands said. "When I took over Snapple, everybody told me my career was over."

"He really understands what the gem of a brand is and makes it come to life in its own personality," said Marke Rubenstein, exec VP-director of promotions and public relations at Deutsch, who has known Mr. Sands for a decade.

"When you're smaller, you have the willingness to take more risks, to be more creative and to go against the grain," Mr. Sands said. Right now he's the underdog in the juice category and also for a potentially larger role that's likely to be created in a corporate restructuring by owner Cadbury Schweppes.

official beverage of NYC

Mr. Sands played a role in making Snapple the official beverage of New York City and its schools. While the $100 million deal is now caught up in a political fracas, Snapple has attracted interest from other schools. "How many companies are willing to customize a beverage for the nutritional requirements of schools?" Mr. Sands asked, referring to the product Snapple created according to New York City school system's guidelines.

Through the first half of 2003, Snapple teas are up 3.2% in volume and 0.7% in share, and outperforming the tea category, according to Beverage Digest, but volume for the juice business is down 19% and share is down 1.7%. "It's a category issue more than a brand issue," said Beverage Digest Publisher John Sicher, who believes Mr. Sands has the mettle to solve that challenge: "Michael Sands is an executive whose strengths extend beyond marketing."

Fast Facts

Name: Michael Sands

Age: 38

Now: Chief marketing officer, Snapple and Motts

Challenge: Drive juice sales to same success as tea sales

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