Former Coca-Cola CMO Chuck Fruit Dies at 61

Was Also Remembered as an Innovator at Anheuser-Busch

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CHICAGO ( -- Chuck Fruit, a pioneering marketer who held top advertising positions at Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola, died unexpectedly this morning of an apparent heart attack while swimming laps at home. He was 61.
Chuck Fruit
Chuck Fruit

Mr. Fruit's legacy includes the enduring impact he had on the dominant beer and soft-drink marketers.

Steady climb to VP
He joined Anheuser-Busch in 1976 as an advertising manager for Busch beer, and over 15 years ultimately rose to become the brewer's VP-media and sports marketing. He was among the earliest proponents of pushing A-B's ad budget into cable TV, particularly into sports programs. He is also regarded as one of the architects of A-B's sport-sponsorship dominance, having backed the then-novel strategy of plastering the brand all over boxing rings and other playing surfaces where it would constantly be on camera. "Everyone at Anheuser-Busch was saddened to hear of Chuck's passing. Chuck was instrumental in guiding the vision of Anheuser-Busch's media and sports marketing philosophy," said A-B's Tony Ponturo, VP-global media and sports marketing.

In 1991, he left A-B for Coke, where he held a variety of sports- and media-related positions, including two stints as chief marketing officer.

At Coke, he helped develop the long-running "Always Coca-Cola" campaign, but was also instrumental in pushing the marketer away from 30-second spots and into less-traditional buys and sponsorships. Mr. Fruit is credited, for instance, as the prime mover behind Coke's early product-placement deal with "American Idol," in which the judges drink Coke products on the air.

Well-rounded personality
In an internal memo, Coca-Cola said, "A great deal of Chuck's success can be attributed to his endless curiosity and sense of wonder. He was a fan of pop culture, a connoisseur of film and a student of history. And although his professional responsibilities might have left little time for such things, Chuck was always willing to give a respectful hearing to sales pitches and cold calls, no matter how seemingly far-fetched ... To his colleagues in marketing, Chuck was steady and level-headed, a beacon of calm and courage in an industry characterized by endless, relentless change. His presence was reassuring to everyone who worked with him: no matter what else happened, Chuck would be there, and he would always come through."

Mr. Fruit retired from Coke in 2005 and has served as an adviser to the company since. He is survived by his wife, Sharon.

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Contributing: Natalie Zmuda
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