By Published on .

Call it the Coke and Pepsi challenge.

At a time of flat sales for colas, Charles Frenette at Coca-Cola Co. and Dawn Hudson at archrival Pepsi-Cola Co. have a strikingly similar task: they must figure out how to rally consumers around their core brands without slowing the momentum of skyrocketing non-colas such as Sprite and Mountain Dew.

For Mr. Frenette, senior VP-chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola's global business, and Ms. Hudson, senior VP-strategy and marketing for Pepsi's North American operation, "standing out, being different, is the ultimate challenge," says branding expert Simon Williams, chairman of the Sterling Group.

Both companies are taking measures to do just that, via increased local marketing, new advertising and new links with retailers that sell their sodas.

"We've intensified our focus on our core brands over the last year, and we're going to continue to do that as our first priority," Mr. Frenette says.

At Pepsi, Ms. Hudson is using more consumer research and finding ways to use the data more effectively. She says a key part of the company's strategy is to develop better insights into consumers and responding in a nimble fashion.

"It's thinking with your head and then going to execute with the heart," says Ms. Hudson, a former advertising agency executive who joined sister PepsiCo company Frito-Lay in 1996.

One example is Pepsi's well-received "Joy of Cola" campaign launched on the Academy Awards last March. The work, from BBDO Worldwide, New York, replaced the "Generation Next" campaign, which was thought to have become too youth-centric and edgy. The new effort, featuring a lip-synching little girl, has a broad age appeal and is more upbeat.

"We did a tremendous amount of qualitative and quantitative work," says Ms. Hudson. "Nothing in the research said go back to a heart of music. You saw people's eyes lighting up and you knew it was what to go on."

Network TV is still important, but it's no longer enough given the fierce local battles for beverage sales and the fragmentation of media today, Ms. Hudson says. The company is boosting spending for radio and outdoor advertising, and looking to enhance its Internet presence. Ms. Hudson also is deploying more funds for ethnic marketing, and for tie-in programs with mega-retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores.

Mr. Frenette, who rose through the ranks on the operations side of Coca-Cola Co., has a wider scope than Ms. Hudson. He is the keeper of the marketing budget for not only the U.S., but for the company's troubled global operation. Ms. Hudson, meanwhile, is in charge of deploying funds in North America.

In contrast to his colorful and controversial predecessor, Sergio Zyman, Mr. Frenette keeps a low external profile. New global strategies for Coke Classic, with stepped up U.S. efforts, are at the top of Mr. Frenette's agenda. At the same time, he is looking toward more local marketing and to connecting better with consumers.

The company's product scare in Europe this summer yielded a lesson in "experiential marketing," an approach Mr. Frenette plans to expand.

"For example, the company bought every Belgian consumer a Coke through sampling and coupon initiatives," he notes. Coca-Cola "greeters" were located in stores to "put a face with the company's messages."

Like Pepsi, the Atlanta beverage giant is trying to make better use of its massive amounts of research.

"Today, we are focused on enhancing our capability to understand and connect with the human condition of people in their local communities in a more personal way," Mr. Frenette says. "We're going to act more like a small, local marketing

Most Popular
In this article: