Characters Welcome

By Barry J. Nathanson

It’s a daily ritual, perusing the comments on BevNET.  Recently, however, I spotted one item that brought me back to my early days covering the marketplace.  I don’t even remember what the post was about, but something struck me: the name Rick Hill. It brought a smile to my face.

Rick Hill was the marketing genius behind Barq’s Root Beer.  He created the “USSR going out of business” sale and a myriad of other off-the-wall, brilliant marketing initiatives.  He made the brand visible and relevant.   He always made me laugh and challenged me to think and react. He was crazy, but crazy good.   I hope it is the same Rick Hill that we named in the release.

It got me to thinking about some of the great characters, and marketing/executive savants that I’ve encountered over the last 19 years, so I’ve decided to give a shout out to a few of them.  They all influenced the beverage arena and made it a better place.  They each had a style and eccentricity that set them apart.

John Clarke and the entire Dr Pepper/7-UP marketing team knew how to party and play, but they still were able to produce some of the best marketing and advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen.  They went toe-to-toe against the big two and held their own.  Their bottler meetings were a sight to behold.

If you look in the dictionary for frenetic, Lance Collins would be one the illustrations.  He started out of his garage, where I visited him many times, and saw his style first hand. He worked at a frenzied pace, never stopped creating, and put together a terrific brand portfolio.  I’d leave my meetings with him exhausted but exhilarated.

The erudite of the group is Jim Koch, a courtly gentleman with a passion for his brand, Sam Adams, unmatched by anyone.  Beneath that serene exterior was a mad scientist at work.  He concocted brilliance, and he’s still at the top of his game.

Peter Van Stolk was second to none in the marketing prowess.  His connection with the consumer, interaction with them, and ability to create brand awareness and sensational headlines stood above the rest.  His Turkey & Gravy and other madcap creations made Jones a marketing legend.  I loved his energy and enthusiasm.  He was and is a joy to be around.  Also, my daughter was the inspiration of My  That’s a story for another time.

That nutty Lizard King, John Bello, drove me crazy.   He couldn’t stop talking or sit still.  He had too much he wanted to accomplish and too little time.  He made the most of every day, and never backed down in his beliefs and confidence in SoBe.  He took the functional concept and ran with it.  He also loved Mickey Mantle, which endeared him in my heart.

Darius Bikoff never wavered in this belief in the importance of vitaminwater.  Nothing could stop his drive, passion and success.  He had a fervor that  was never deterred.  His grasp of popular culture media was astounding, and filtered its way into all brand copy.  He willed glaceau to success, and to a hefty payout, I might add.

Don Vultaggio literally stood above the rest.  After all, he’s about six-foot-five or so.  He worked from the gut, created more groundbreaking brands and packaging than any company.  He always believed in his concepts and figured out a way to make it happen. “No” was never an option at Arizona.  He accepted his infrequent failures and never looked back.  He’s still the innovator to reckon with.

These are but a few of the people I have encountered and admired.  There are many more I could add.  I hope that there will be the next generation of these characters to add to the pantheon of beverage legends.  Characters Welcome!