ANALYSIS: Wheldon could make Coke blue

When Coca-Cola’s new marketing director jumped ship last week to join BBDO Europe, the agency for rival PepsiCo, it was a significant coup for the second-place cola company. Claire Murphy reports

When Coca-Cola’s new marketing director jumped ship last week to join

BBDO Europe, the agency for rival PepsiCo, it was a significant coup for

the second-place cola company. Claire Murphy reports

How would you feel if the man you’d just made marketing director for

your brand across the whole of Europe, two weeks later decided to defect

to your most bitter rival?

That’s effectively what happened to Coca-Cola last week when David

Wheldon handed in his notice to his bosses in Atlanta and told them he

was taking a plane across the Atlantic to become president of PepsiCo’s

advertising agency, BBDO Europe.

Much to Pepsi’s glee, the air at Coke’s head office probably turned blue

with the knowledge that one of their most senior men would now be

working for the opposition. Before joining Coke in 1993, Wheldon was

managing director of Lowe Howard-Spink and worked on the advertising for

the Coke brand.

Coke’s Atlanta chiefs are putting a brave face on it: ‘It looks like

David wanted to return to the agency side of the business.’ As for the

kind of inside information he must have, Coke says: ‘He has signed non-

disclosure agreements and he is on ‘gardening leave’ until January when

he takes up his new post at BBDO’s offices in London.’

Wheldon was brought to his new agency post by BBDO’s worldwide

president, Jean-Michel Goudard, for his experience of global branding,

but according to the agency he won’t work on Pepsi straight away for

‘ethical reasons’.

Pepsi will certainly benefit from having such a senior ex-Coke man

working on its business. The move puts the performance of Pepsi’s

advertising strategy into the spotlight as it braces itself for a cost-

cutting drive. (see news story). So what will Wheldon do with the

advertising for the client that has been in his sights for the past

three years?

Sales figures show that Pepsi has made almost no inroads on Coke’s

dominance in ten years. Own-label brands have had a much bigger impact

(see box). Sources suggest that while Pepsi was pleased with the

immediate PR effect that Landor’s redesign had, the disappointing volume

sales of Pepsi pointed to something lacking on the communication of the


Pepsi marketers dispute the figures and point out that the goal of the

exercise was too long-term to judge over one summer, but insiders wonder

if the heavy investment in April would have been better spent on more

advertising to counter Coca-Cola’s massive pounds 24m spend.

‘It was a sound strategic move to emphasise Pepsi’s difference, but the

redesign is only part of the picture,’ says Richard Hall of soft drinks

analyst Zenith International. ‘Pepsi still has to address a host of

other issues including distribution efficiency, management direction and

advertising image.

‘Coca-Cola has won on the streets with aggressive promotions and high-

profile sports sponsorship and internationally it is more focused and

more committed.’

But Hall adds that Pepsi Max, launched in 1993, demonstrates Pepsi still

has the ability to hit back hard. The question is whether the new

‘Change the Script’ advertising for the main brand is contributing as

well as the Max campaign did.

The new copyline replaced the 12-year-old ‘Choice of a New Generation’

in April as the cans turned blue. ‘We think the new ‘Change the Script’

theme appeals to teenagers’ universal desire to shake up the status quo

and encourage them to look at and think about Pepsi in a whole new way,’

says Larry McIntosh, Pepsi’s vice-president of advertising.

The ‘Machine’ ad featuring celebrities was pulled from the British

schedule after one showing, when the UK marketing team realised that

Cindy Crawford, Andre Agassi and Claudia Schiffer would have limited

appeal in the UK.

UK consumers have seen two ‘Change the Script’ ads, both produced

outside this country. ‘Babies’ was created by BBDO’s Madrid agency

Tiempa and ‘Chant’ by BBDO New York.

Ironically it is Coca-Cola that is using a myriad of local agencies to

produce advertising which is tailored to local cultures.

Wheldon’s tenure at the advertising helm of the cola leader led to the

appointment of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Publicis in the UK, and

coincided with the beginning of the ‘Always Coca-Cola’ campaign, devised

by the US Creative Artists Agency.

Coca-Cola’s streetwise advertising has created problems for Pepsi and

its desire to position itself as the non-establishment, alternative


However, there are signs that Pepsi is localising its advertising effort

to drive home its new image.

Through its media specialist, Drum, and PR agency, Freud, Pepsi

commissioned production company Planet 24 to produce a series of three-

minute ‘Miller Time’ style ads in the run-up to Christmas.

The company is to produce spoof spots based on the now defunct cult

programme The Word, and has signed up its former presenters.

Pepsi is keen to emphasise that the campaign, which will form the thrust

of the brand’s advertising in November and December, does not mean that

BBDO’s UK agency, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, has been overlooked.

But some insiders wonder whether Wheldon’s appointment reflects the

agency’s attempt to ensure that any drive to localise campaigns does not

weaken its position.

One thing is for certain: the marketing and advertising chiefs of Pepsi

will already have made dates to talk to Wheldon about what they should

be doing in the future.

And, of course, whether he has any ideas about what their main rival

might be up to.


Cola volume brand shares


1985                            UK share

Coke (including Diet)           51%

Pepsi (including Diet)          16%

Own-label and other brands      33%


Coke (including Diet)           46.9%

Pepsi (including Diet)          16.3%

Own-label and other brands      36.73%

Source: Mintel



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