Magazine article Marketing

Singing the Blues

Magazine article Marketing

Singing the Blues

Article excerpt

Pepsi's new advertising slogan, 'Change the Script', could have been coined for its vice-president of marketing, Europe, Mhairi McEwan. In May last year, after 14 years in the dry world of detergent marketing with Unilever, she took on the job at Pepsi. One year later, the soft drinks giant undertook one of the biggest marketing moves in recent years - dumping its old can design and spending [pounds]300m turning Pepsi blue.

It grabbed headlines and consumer attention by turning everything from Concorde to the Daily Mirrorblue, and threw down a challenge to its arch rival Coca-Cola; top that if you can. Coke responded with sponsorship programmes built around sport, including Euro '96, Wimbledon, and the Olympics.

The two cola brands have since been locked into a battle over which marketing move has come out on top. Pepsi was dealt an apparent blow when figures leaked shortly after the Project Blue launch suggested sales had actually fallen.

McEwan, perhaps harking back to her days at Unilever, decided at the time to stay quiet and make no comment.

Several months later, when the hype has to be matched with sales figures, she is coming out fighting: "Pepsi has set itself the target of being the world's fastest-growing refreshment beverage company and we're doing it."

The gloves are clearly off. But those who know McEwan from her Unilever days say she will enjoy the scrap. "She always used to put the fear of God into technical departments," says former colleague Jerry Wright who is now Lever Bros business group manager for non-fabrics. He recalls her winning the nickname Little Miss Samson from the Unilever R&D department after she snapped a product prototype in half to demonstrate its weakness.

Former colleagues talk with admiration about how McEwan successfully juggles a top marketing job and a family with two young children. McEwan joined Unilever in 1982, having spent three years studying psychology and industry at Leicester University. She was hired as a trainee at Lever Bros by former chief executive, Andrew Seth. "We recruited some really strong people that year but she was one of the best," says Seth. "She proved she could do the job just as well as the best man there."

They liked her, but McEwan clearly liked them too -and stayed with the company for 13 years. …

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