Roger Enrico, PepsiCo leader during the 1980s ‘Cola Wars’, dies at 71

In the 1980s a war raged for the cola-drinking audience of the United States. Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola was one of the brand stories — not just at that time but, arguably, in brand history. Pepsi punched hard and furiously — and just about knocked Coca-Cola off its perch. It was reported that Roger Enrico, the man widely credited with the brand’s success at the time, died suddenly while on vacation with his family in the Cayman Islands. The cause of death was not immediately known. He was 71.

"Today is an incredibly sad day for the PepsiCo family, for we have lost one of the true legends of our company and our industry," PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said in a statement. "Roger Enrico was, quite simply, one of the most creative marketers of his or any generation. He was a risk-taker, never afraid to challenge the status quo or make bold moves to get ahead. He was tough as nails, always prepared to get the job done and beat the competition. At the same time, he had a true love for our people and a passion for empowering them to reach their full potential."

Enrico, a native of Chisholm, Minnesota (in the northern part of the state) was with the company for more than 30 years, starting his tenure, according to Adweek, as an associate brand manager for Funyuns after serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War.

He served as CEO of PepsiCo from 1996 to 2001. Soon after his appointment, he spun off the company’s restaurant division that included Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC into what is now known as Yum Brands. He also shepherded key acquisitions such as Tropicana (1998) and Quaker Oats (2000) — the latter including the Gatorade brand.

Though his business acumen as CEO of PepsiCo was evident, Enrico was considered a marketing genius and is widely credited with supercharging the company’s advertising by enlisting the talents of celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Michael J. Fox, Lionel Richie, Tina Turner and more. The “Pepsi Generation” campaigns were innovative and pioneered the current practice of brands partnering with high-profile entertainment and music figures. According to The New York Times, Enrico, after ascending to the CEO role at Pepsi-Cola USA in 1983, at the age of 38, almost immediately signed Jackson, at one of the apexes of his popularity, to a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal.

Coca-Cola began to feel the heat. Pepsi’s advertising and associated Pepsi Challenge taste test rattled the Atlanta-based company to the point of changing its vaunted secret formula in 1985, to “New Coke,” triggering one of the biggest backlashes in brand history. Coca-Cola quickly returned to the old formula, branded as Coca-Cola Classic, after cola mutiny broke out.

The episode prompted Pepsi to take out a full-page newspaper ad declaring victory from the Purchase, New York HQ. ''After 87 years of going at it eyeball to eyeball, the other guy just blinked,'' Enrico said in the advertisement. ''There is no question the long term market success of Pepsi has forced this move.’' The story was also part of Enrico’s memoir, “The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won The Cola Wars.”

Three years after retiring from PepsiCo in 2001, according to The Wall Street Journal, Jeffery Katzenberg recruited Enrico to join DreamWorks Animation as chairman, a position he held until 2012.

"The entire DreamWorks family is deeply saddened by the loss of our former chairman,” DWA chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg told The Hollywood Reporter.

"Roger was a leader in every sense of the word, owning a rare combination of courage, tenacity, compassion and creativity. His career at PepsiCo is the stuff of legends, and as our chairman he was an invaluable voice during a pivotal time in the growth and evolution of our company. I am eternally grateful for his leadership, his counsel and, most of all, his friendship."

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