Genius or All Sizzle and No Steak?


Marketing people can be full of bull.

Since becoming CEO of PepsiCo Americas Beverages 16 months ago, Maasimo F d’Amore has embarked on an aggressive seven-month blitz to create new ads and slogans for seven brands as well as a redesign of 1,121 bottles, cans, and packages.

d’Amore chose as a top adviser Manhattan branding expert Peter Arnell, whose Arnell Group is part of the advertising giant Omnicom Group. d’Amore had worked with Arnell before. Still, it was a controversial choice. Depending on whom you talk to, Arnell is either a genius or all sizzle and no steak. He has had successes, including the launch of the DKNY brand. And he dazzles clients with his erudition. But it has been years since he scored a hit, and his recent work, including a line of Muhammad Ali snack food for Mars, has fared poorly.

When told that Indra Nooyi, chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo wanted Pepsi to be like an iPod, an elegant product people like to be seen with, Arnell was jazzed. “The objective was very, very clearly laid out,” he proclaimed in his typical verbal-diarrhea style, “We needed to rejuvenate, reengineer, rethink, reparticipate in popular culture.”

Twelve days later, Arnell presented his new logo to a handful of executives at PepsiCo headquarters. Arnell gave one of his trademark performances. He traced his design not just to Pepsi’s days as a local brand in New Bern, NC, but to the touchstones of Western civilization: the golden ratio, the Parthenon, Mona Lisa’s smile, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and, of course, the iPod. He explained how his smooth new circle, which would replace the 3D look of the old logo with simple matte colors, mimicked the minimalist lines of Apple’s music-and-video player. The logo’s upturned curves, he said, were like emoticons: Diet Pepsi was a “grin,” Pepsi was a “smile,” Pepsi Max a “laugh”.

Months later the presentation would leak online, to be pilloried by bloggers as so self-indulgent that many concluded it had to be a satire, or a hoax. The 27-page memo, complete with charts and diagrams, reads in some parts as if it were the work of a college student majoring in art and humanities, complete with references to the golden ratio and magnetic fields.

But d’Amore liked what he saw, particularly the smiles. “They brought humanity to the logo,” he was reported to have said.

So is the redesign working?

d’Amore and Nooyi are saying PepsiCo doesn’t expect to see results until the second half of this year. So far the company says there have been glimmers of hope: Pepsi has gained market share against Coca-Cola in the US, says Beverage Digest.

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