Rajiv is based out of Delhi-NCR and writes stories on startups, corporates, entrepreneurs of all kinds, and yes, marketing and advertising world. His ‘historic feats’ include graduation in history from Hansraj College, master’s in medieval Indian history from Delhi University, and PG diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Another forgettable achievement was spending over a decade at The Economic Times as his maiden job. For the first seven years, he learnt the craft on the desk, and the remaining years were spent unlearning and writing for Brand Equity and ET Magazine. What keeps him going, and alive, apart from stories is the heavenly music of immortal legend RD Burman.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, US, December 2008. “Your pizza sucks…” the backhanded compliment was a sucker punch for Russell Weiner who was used to a “fizzy”, and “happy” life. He joined Pepsi in 1998, held various marketing positions over the next decade, and in 2007 urged cola drinkers to be “more happy”, a new tagline that Pepsi adopted since its last one—“Pepsi. It’s the cola”—in 2003. “One of the nice things about the word ‘happy’ is it’s really multidimensional,” Weiner, vice president of cola marketing at PepsiCo, reportedly remarked during the unveiling of the advertising campaign with the new slogan. “The beauty of the word happy,” he underlined, “is it kind of captures all of them—invigorating, uplifting, exciting and fun.”
Then suddenly in December 2008, life turned ugly for Weiner. Just two months into his new job as executive vice president, chief marketing officer of Domino’s, his wife forwarded him a meme, which was floating freely on the internet. “We make our pizzas and our boxes out of the same material,” read the caustic message, which displayed two boxes of Domino’s. One was open and showed a pizza, and the other one was closed. Weiner didn’t know how to react. “Three months after I joined Domino’s, the stock hit a new low of under $3,” he recalls in an exclusive interview with Forbes India on his maiden visit to India as CEO in the third week of December. The new innings had nothing to smile, and say cheese!
Rewind to his decade-long stint at Pepsi, Weiner was indeed more than happy. For the marketing maverick, life was fun. He crafted Pepsi’s largest promotion in history—“Stuff”—a continuity programme rolled out to retain core Pepsi users, and his Diet Pepsi MAX ad campaign won an Effie Award for “Wake up People” in 2008. The same year, he was Brandweek’s Top 10 Marketers of the Next Generation, and was also Advertising Age Top 40 under 40. The icing on the cake was Pepsi’s 2008 Super Bowl ad featuring Justin Timberlake, which emerged as the number one Super Bowl ad viewed online. Clearly, Lady Luck was smiling.
Fast forward to December 2008, Weiner’s luck was in shreds. Domino’s was into its third year of consecutive negative same store sales: 4.1 percent, 1.7 percent and 4.9 percent in 2006, 2007 and 2008, respectively. The celebrated marketer soon realised that the new brand he started working for had lost its fizz. The adjectives that the marketer passionately clung to all his life—invigorating, uplifting, exciting and fun—suddenly deserted him. And it was not a happy realisation at all.
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