Brad Jakeman, the high-profile president of PepsiCo's global beverage group who oversees the marketer's in-house content creation arm, is leaving the company after seven years to start his own consulting firm. PepsiCo will be his first client, according to a company memo authored by Eugene Willemsen, the company's executive VP for global categories and franchise management. Willemsen will lead the global beverage group on an interim basis until a replacement is found.
"I've had the opportunity to meet and work with entrepreneurs all over the world who are disrupting industries, creating new economies and building a better society. Now, I have chosen to step down from my current role at PepsiCo in order to follow my passion in these areas, while continuing to consult for PepsiCo," Jakeman stated in the memo. "I am starting a new venture to help companies innovate and to advise on building brands in our hyper-connected world." A PepsiCo spokeswoman confirmed Jakeman's departure, stating that the company "looks forward to working with him in this new capacity."
His exit comes six months after PepsiCo was forced to pull its widely-mocked Kendall Jenner ad. The spot was created by the marketer's in-house content creation arm, called Creators League Studio, which Jakeman oversees.The backlash against the ad did not prompt his departure, according to people familiar with the situation, although in a recent personal Facebook post he called the experience "gut-wrenching and painful."
PepsiCo quickly pulled the ad on April 5 amid withering social media criticism, including complaints it co-opted protest movements such as Black Lives Matter. The ad drew widespread media coverage but financial analysts who cover PepsiCo did not publicly raise the incident as a concern amid the aftermath.
Jakeman has not publicly spoken about the ad. But he offered a glimpse into his thinking in the Oct. 10 Facebook post on his personal page in which he defended Dove marketers, whom this month faced a similar social media backlash for a body wash ad. The Dove spot was derided as racist for its depiction of a black woman taking off her shirt to reveal a white woman underneath.
"One mistake does not define a brand, a company nor the people responsible for it," Jakeman wrote, calling the Dove critics "keyboard warriors" who have "been out in force these past five days … unencumbered by facts, background and perspective." He pointed to Dove's long track record of "supporting women and minority communities by actions and thousands and thousands of other pieces of marketing content," adding that "very few people are right-sizing this as an anomaly." He acknowledged that "I have a unique perspective on this issue having been there myself. It is gut-wrenching and painful. In my case the most painful in my entire career."
Jakeman has long been an advocate for diversity. Outside of PepsiCo he has been involved in efforts such as the Ad Council's award-winning anti-discrimination "Love Has No Labels" campaign that fights unconscious prejudices. "The biggest contribution Brad brought to his team and the company is his humanity and his commitment to diversity," former PepsiCo executive Carla Hassan stated in an email interview. She served under Jakeman as senior VP for brand management in the global beverage group before leaving in January to become global CMO at Toys 'R' Us.
In a fiery speech to the 2015 Association of National Advertisers conference, Jakeman said, "I am sick and tired as a client of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that are bought 85 percent by women. Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people." He also took on other parts of the advertising ecosystem, including pre-roll ads that he described as "a model of polluting content that is not sustainable."
With the Creators League studio, Jakeman sought to leverage the power of PepsiCo's brands with branded and unbranded content, including scripted series, films and music recordings. The studio, which is led on a day-to-day basis by Kristin Patrick, PepsiCo's senior VP of global brand development, is expected to continue operating after Jakeman's departure.
League of its own
The business model is to bring in writers, art directors, cinematographers and other talent on an as-needed basis. "Our goal is to really behave like a Hollywood studio," Jakeman said in an interview last year. Projects include a forthcoming film in collaboration with Lions Gate featuring NBA star Kyrie Irving's "Uncle Drew" character who has previously been featured in Pepsi ads. Also in the works is a collaboration with hip-hop artist Tip "T.I." Harris for a planned coming-of-age feature film executives have described as an "urban 'Pitch Perfect.''"
The Creators League is also behind a short documentary film called "The Rugby Boys of Memphis" that was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. It carried subtle Gatorade branding and told the story of an inner-city rugby program. The studio also manages social media accounts for PepsiCo brands including Pepsi in North America.
Willemsen, in the company memo, credited Jakeman with bringing a "bold vision, and innovative thinking to our Global Beverage Group." He said he established "an award-winning design capability within PepsiCo," while developing "the first truly global campaign for brands Pepsi, 7UP, Mirinda, and Mountain Dew." Willemsen also cited the recent launch of the Lifewtr premium bottled water brand, which he called "our biggest beverage innovation in years."
Lifewtr, whose labels feature rotating designs created by emerging artists, launched in the U.S. earlier this year and was backed by a Super Bowl ad. Since then, it has made significant gains on Coca-Cola's competing Smartwater brand in the U.S. In the first half of the year, Lifewtr reached 5 percent share of the single-serve enhanced bottled water segment by volume as Smartwater lost nearly 5 share points, declining to less than 26 percent share of the segment, Beverage-Digest reported in August.
Soft drink slide
But PepsiCo's carbonated soft drink business has struggled, especially in North America, where total beverage revenue fell 5 percent in the third quarter. On an Oct. 4 earnings call PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi characterized the underperformance as "temporary, not structural," saying the company "directed too much of our media spending and shelf space to new low-calorie, much smaller brands at the expense of our Pepsi and Mountain Dew trademarks."
Under PepsiCo's model, the global beverage group sets broader global brand and innovation strategies, while day-to-day execution and country-specific campaigns are handled in local markets. Kirk Tanner is PepsiCo's president and chief operating officer for North America Beverages. In the U.S., brand Pepsi marketing is overseen by Greg Lyons, who took over as chief marketing officer for North American beverages in February. In September, he announced that the company was moving brand Pepsi creative duties to Goodby Silverstein & Partners, after an Omnicom-only creative agency review.
Jakeman is the second high-profile executive to announce plans this month to start a consultancy. Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall, a former Coke marketer, is leaving Airbnb on Oct. 20 to launch a marketing consulting firm named 21st Century Brand.