Cie Nicholson’s Post-Pepsi Life: Non-Profits—and Pups

Though she probably still pops open a Pepsi now and again, Cie Nicholson has a new love in her life: puppies. But more on that in a minute. Since leaving Pepsi-Cola North America in July 2008, this former CMO has hardly stood still. After traveling to a number of exotic locales, Nicholson got involved with two start-up companies. One is called GamesThatGive, an activity site that donates 70 percent of its ad revenues to the charity of the game-player’s choice. Nicholson was fortunate to get her former employer as a sponsor for the venture—but then again, she earned it. During her 11 years at Pepsi, Nicholson helped launch everything from vending machines with bigger buttons to flavored line extensions courtesy of bigger budgets. The advent of Mountain Dew Code Red in 2001 led to the flavored-soda wars. It also earned Nicholson a nod as a Brandweek Marketer of the Year in 2002. That’s not the only trophy on Nicholson’s shelf, however. She helped to launch Sierra Mist in 2003, a beverage that became a top seller by 2005. And, during her preceding tenure at R.J. Reynolds, Nicholson helped drive the successful relaunch of the Winston brand. Now, about those puppies: Nicholson’s second start-up company is called Pup To Go—a front-hanging pouch that looks a lot like a baby carrier, except that it’s for your dog. What’s it feel like to go from beverages to beagles? Below, Nicholson reflects on her projects past and present:

  So what have you been doing since you left Pepsi?

Cie Nicholson:  I have really enjoyed the last year. It has been a great change after working in corporate America for 20 years. I traveled to South Africa, Spain and drove my car down the East Coast. I’ve taken history classes at New York University, enjoyed yoga, worked on my golf game and spent a lot of time with friends and family. I also joined the Board of Directors of Selective Insurance Group and have been involved in two start-ups. 
Pup To Go was started with Meena Mansharamani who is also a PepsiCo alum. It is a small dog carrier business that just launched six weeks ago. Check out our Web site— A picture’s worth a thousand words.
But what I am spending [most of] my time on is GamesThatGive. I joined in January. We launched our public beta in July and launched our Facebook application at the end of August.

BW: Talk a little about GamesThatGive.
CN: is a simple concept that’s having a huge impact. You play for free, and we donate to your favorite charity while you play. Our games are sponsored by advertisers. GamesThatGive donates 70 percent of its ad revenue to a limited number of charities like Feeding America, the United Way, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and Do Something.
Early data shows that the Web site and Facebook application are going to be very successful. We have more than 4,500 registered beta users since launching our beta Web site in July and our beta Facebook application in late August. Statistics show that each user plays about two times per day. Our average time on site right now is more than 13 minutes, which is more than three and a half times the benchmark for similar sized casual gaming sites.

BW: Who are the sponsors, and what do they get for signing up with you?
CN: They are Domino’s, Dial, MasterCard, Best Buy, Pepsi, Starbucks Frappuccino, Propel and Quaker. [Note: The latter four are all aligned with PepsiCo.]
The easiest way to understand this is to go to the site and play a game for a few minutes. What you will see is one advertiser at a time. The advertising sessions will be at least 10 minutes long. The background behind the game rotates visuals from the same brand—i.e., slightly different Pepsi logos. The sponsors also get to access the notification window at the top of the game for individualized messages or promotions or coupons. They’re all clickable. These run for 10 seconds once a minute. There are also ties back to Twitter and Facebook.