Meeting Richard Lee (Pepsico) in Shanghai

Meeting Richard Lee (Pepsico) in Shanghai

Richard Lee: The man behind ‘Create for Thirst’

We are in Bar Rouge, a bar and lounge in Shanghai’s famous Bund area, where we are meeting Richard Lee. We have known Richard, Chief Marketing Officer of PepsiCo China Ltd., for a while. He worked for Pepsi in the US, where we first met him five years ago, before he moved back to China.

We find him at the bar. “It’s been a while since we were all on the same continent at the same time,” I say, pulling up a chair.

“Don’t get comfortable quite yet,” he says with a smile. He leads us past a group of twenty-somethings sipping cocktails on long sofas and out onto the terrace. “This area is known as the Manhattan of the East. From here you can see why,” he says, pointing to the high-rises on Shanghai’s skyline. “It’s also a symbol of the rapid changes taking place in China – the perfect spot to tell you about how Pepsi is keeping up.”

We sit down at one of the tables as a waiter comes towards us. “This round’s on me,” says Richard, turning to the waiter. “We’ll have three colas with ice, please. And could you make them Pepsi?”

He turns back to us. “Pepsi has grown into an iconic brand in China, but I won’t necessarily get Pepsi unless I ask for it. Brand dominance is something we’re always striving for, just as we’re striving to keep the brand relevant. Pepsi appeals to young consumers, but like China, consumers are changing quickly.”

Meeting Richard Lee (Pepsico) in Shanghai

Meeting Richard Lee (Pepsico) in Shanghai

The waiter brings our drinks. Richard takes a sip then continues. “China’s new generation works hard and plays hard. They’re ambitious but they also enjoy socialising with friends. We’re increasingly seeing that socialising happening online.”

“Do you mean through social media?” I ask.

“Precisely, which ties in with another trend.” He tells us about the popularity of digital media and China’s new ‘creators’: more than three-quarters of young people create something online, whether it is a website, blog, forum post or video.

“How has this changed the way you engage with your consumers?” Maarten asks.

“Digital media provides many opportunities for consumer engagement, which also adds value to the commercial side of the business. One benefits from the other.”

He looks out at the view again. “Pepsi has to be more than a drink; it has to add meaning to life. We’re still using the 7E Principles I told you about last time we met, which have successfully guided our campaigns for several years. But we also found a purpose for the brand: enabling young people to be creative. We call it ‘Create for Thirst’.”

He raises his glass and empties the contents. “Talking of thirst, let’s order a refill.”

“Good idea,” I agree. He beckons over the waiter. “Same again, please.” The waiter hesitates for a second, then says: “Yours was Pepsi, wasn’t it?”

© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands

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