The Pepsi Challenge

By The Drum, Administrator

November 30, 2004 | 7 min read

When it was suggested that Adline meet Martin Glenn, president of PepsiCo UK & Ireland, in a bar, it seemed like such a good idea. No stuffy offices with uncomfortable chairs and weak tea. Instead, it would be a comfy chair, a comprehensive range of drinks and an atmosphere conducive to having a good chinwag with one of marketing’s most powerful people.

Two minutes in and all is going well. We’ve already found a suitably pleasant spot, the chairs are very comfortable and Mr Glenn has begun to fill Adline in on his career background. It’s at this point that both Glenn and Adline are asked what beverages we would like from the bar. With the benefit of hindsight it might have been better to consider, maybe even for just a couple of milliseconds, whose company we are sharing, before replying – with an air of both innocence and idiocy – that the beverage Adline would really appreciate to quench its thirst is a glass of \"Coke\".

If the phrase \"Adline’s dropped a bollock\" could be summed up in a facial expression, it’d be fair to assume that Glenn’s faint smirk and look of bewilderment would be a pretty accurate interpretation. Fortunately, for the good of the interview and the restoration of Adline’s cheek colour to something lighter than crimson, Glenn takes our faux pas in good humour, suggesting that what we meant to say was \"Pepsi\" before continuing to tell all on how he ended up in his current role.

Now 44, Glenn grew up in Tamworth, Staffordshire, and began his career with Cadbury Schweppes in 1981. He spent four years with the firm before working as a marketing consultant for Deloitte and had a five-year stint with Mars Petfoods, operating in both the UK and Germany. Glenn joined Walkers Snack Foods just over ten years ago and was promoted to the role of president in 1998. When Walkers, along with the Pepsi, Tropicana and Quaker brands became PepsiCo earlier this year, Glenn was elected president of the firm in UK and Ireland.

While Glenn’s office is in London, where he oversees the operations of all PepsiCo brands, Walkers continues to employ over 2000 staff in Leicester and is a brand that has maintained its roots. As Glenn explains: \"There are so many global brands out there but people do like to know where something comes from. There’s a history to the Walkers brand. There’s a Mr Walker.\"

Walkers is also the sponsor of Leicester City Football Club and as such was responsible for the club’s new ground, aptly called Walkers Stadium. Glenn has even become a non-executive director at the club, despite being a Wolves fan – something that he was resigned to admitting to fellow directors at the club.

Walkers has also stayed close to home when it comes to its use of celebrities for its advertising. Gary Lineker, legendary Leicester (Spurs, Everton, Barcelona and England) football star and all-round smashingly nice fella, has now been the face of the Walkers brand for over 10 years. However, as Glenn explains, there was far more to this use of celebrity than his association with his local city: \"There is a pure advertising idea at the heart of the Walkers campaign. It’s not just another celebrity campaign. Too many ads rely on the celebrity to sell the product.

\"Our idea was the ‘no more Mr Nice Guy’ theme. It could easily have worked with nice guy figures such as teachers and vicars, but we decided to bring in a celebrity who embodied the nice guy image.

\"We searched around for a while and many names were touted, including Denis Waterman and Kevin Keegan.\" (Imagine it now, ‘I’ll love it if we eat them, love it.’) \"But as soon as Gary Lineker’s name was mentioned, it seemed the perfect choice. Gary had just come back from Japan and was trying to carve out a career for himself in broadcasting – something he openly admits to being poor at in the early days. But for Walkers, he wasn’t too old, was still popular and was seen as kind of an aspirational ambassador for middle England. It was only after his name was mentioned that his background fitted in perfectly. A Leicester lad whose Dad used to deliver potatoes to the factory. That’s why the first ad of the campaign showed him coming home to Leicester.\"

While Beckham’s pretty boy looks are deemed a perfect match for the Pepsi brand, Glenn explains why Lineker’s more wholesome and down-to-earth personality was right for the firm’s crisp brand: \"Walkers is not a sexy brand. Can you honestly say that you’ve ever seen a film in which the lead character opens a bag of crisps and starts crunching away? Of course not. That’s why it’s important our marketing embraces the down-to-earth qualities of the product.\"

And who can pick fault with the strategy? Walkers is the UK’s number one brand, with some 10 million crisps consumed daily and, having dislodged Des from his pedestal and, let’s face it, being a whole lot less irritating than Richard Keys, Lineker has managed to establish himself as the football anchor king, a fact that Glenn admits has helped the Walkers cause. \"I think Match of the Day and They Think It’s All Over have made Gary a TV star and, as such, haven’t harmed the brand.\"

Turning his attentions to the fizzy drinks market, and the cola market in particular, Glenn is very pragmatic about Pepsi’s position. He says: \"In the States, Pepsi is head to head with Coke. Then there are pockets around the world, like in the Middle East, where Pepsi is the market leader. In the UK, we are very much second place when it comes to market share.\" This perhaps explains Adline’s instinctive response of Coke earlier in the conversation, but let’s not dwell on that.

As one of marketing’s most influential figures, Glenn is also in a prime position to see exactly what is happening in the market and when quizzed about Quibla Cola – the new brand born in Derbyshire and targeted towards British Asians – the Pepsi chief has some words of caution. \"It won’t work. You can’t expect British Asians to express their convictions through their choice of cola. I guess it could achieve small success, maybe in the same way Virgin Cola has, but it certainly won’t become a major player.\"

What is clear, throughout the conversation, is that Glenn is fiercely proud of the PepsiCo brands and is a marketeer through and through. From his views on Quibla to his role in the Walkers history and his overarching theory on marketing, Glenn remains one of marketing’s most interesting and important characters. As the interview draws to a close, Glenn has one more piece of advice for other industry players. He concludes, \"Our role as marketeers is to sell stuff – it’s important not to forget that. There’s a lot of over complicating it and too much emphasis is put on academia. In my opinion, a point of view is worth 100 IQ points.\"

\"Walkers is not a sexy brand. Have you’ve ever seen a film where the lead character opens a bag of crisps and starts crunching away. It’s important

our marketing embraces the down to earth qualities of the product.\"


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