Pepsi VP Todd Kaplan Takes a Challenger Brand Position to Drive Category Disruption

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In his nearly 13 years with PepsiCo, Todd Kaplan has taken on multiple different roles, from Sports Marketing to Incubation Brands to leading Global Innovation and Insights. Those experiences served as the perfect runway to his new role as Head of Marketing for the Colas and Pepsi segment where he is taking the category disruption head on and staying laser-focused on the consumer to deliver on the Challenger brand heritage of the nearly 120-year-old beverage brand.

Tell us about your background and why you chose to join PepsiCo.

I began my career in sports marketing, working as an in-house sponsorship consultant for Visa International. While there, I advised them and created marketing programs around their global sports properties ranging from the Olympic Games to Rugby World Cup.  I then went on to business school at Yale, knowing that I wanted a career building and marketing brands with an opportunity to connect with and shape culture.

Pepsi partners with Cardi B
Pepsi partners with Cardi B

At PepsiCo I’ve been lucky enough to build a rich and varied career over the years. Whether it was starting an in-house branded entertainment group, leading marketing efforts on iconic brands like Mountain Dew, or creating and launching new disruptive brands like LIFEWTR and bubly, all my experiences at PepsiCo have offered different challenges and learnings.  I’ve been fortunate to work across many disciplines within the organization, from innovation to consumer insights, while continuing to flex my background leading the development of partnership marketing programs… And no matter who the partnership was with – Beyoncé, the NFL, XBOX, Dale Earnhardt Jr, or even most recently Cardi B – I’ve kept my focus on driving a cultural impact with our marketing to better connect our brands to consumers in a disruptive manner.

As the marketing head of Pepsi, the opportunity to reinvigorate this brand and make a dent in culture is what gets me out of bed every day and excited to come into the office. This company has so many opportunities to really create dynamic marketing and consumer engagement programs across different categories, which has fueled my entrepreneurial spirit within one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies… There are not too many companies that provide the opportunity to create and build almost anything you can dream up.


What Makes Pepsi a Challenger Brand?

Pepsi has a deep heritage as a challenger brand. It’s been part of our brand ethos since the famous “Pepsi Challenge” blind taste tests in the mid-’70’s to some of our most iconic TV creative – right up to this year when we painted Atlanta blue for Super Bowl LIII. The truth is, the “Pepsi” heritage is innately intertwined with our competitor, which gives us a lot of runway to lean into that challenger mentality to distinguish our point of view. In addition, Pepsi has always been at the forefront of pop culture and our consumers have come to expect us to show up around cultural touchpoints like sports, music, and entertainment. We have a long history in this area, from creating properties like Uncle Drew to amplifying platforms like the Super Bowl Halftime Show, which gives our work an extra edge in the cultural zeitgeist.  And the challenger mindset motivates us to clearly understand how we show up in the world and take some risks, as we did this year with our Pepsi #MoreThanOK campaign, where we not only tapped into personalities that were relevant in culture, but also built upon a consumer and cultural insight to take something that could be perceived as a brand weakness and flip it on its head.

nadine.dietz@adweek.com Nadine Dietz is chief community officer at Adweek and host of the CMO Moves podcast.
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