Very rarely do you come across people who speak fluently in the languages of brand, music and culture. In an advertising era where buzz words and unauthentic campaigns are a dime a dozen, Richie Cruz has cut through the clutter as a leading voice for all corners of the marketing paradigm. The six-year PepsiCo veteran has worked on some of the brand's most memorable campaigns, including "Green Label Sound," "Brisk Bodega" and "Uncle Drew 3" with Kyrie Irving.
So when Mountain Dew became the Official Beverage of the NBA in April 2015, ending the league's 28-year relationship with Coca-Cola, there was no better choice to lead this partnership's strategy and massive activation than Cruz. With Pepsi's Mountain Dew as the lead partnership brand, the cultural world has been transfixed on what Dew will do with this new NBA platform. So, we sat down with Cruz to talk all things Pepsi/Mountain Dew, NBA, sports and music. Check it out.
Last April, PepsiCo and the NBA announced a marketing partnership that made PepsiCo the official beverage of the league, and Mountain Dew the lead brand for the partnership in North America. You have been on the team bringing this partnership to life. Why do this deal?
The NBA partnership brought a unique opportunity that aligned two culturally-relevant brands that share many of the same values. As the lead brand for the partnership in North America, Mountain Dew has always been an active participant in driving youth culture and the NBA partnership has opened up many new ways for DEW to add to that legacy.
What will make this beverage partnership special and different from the rest?
The NBA has consistently been a leader in converging the world of sports, lifestyle and technology. Mountain Dew is all about finding and delivering awesome, one-of-a-kind experiences to DEW Nation, so the NBA partnership has been a natural fit for the brand, one that offers unprecedented opportunities for DEW to engage fans in completely new ways and that shows fans that the game starts on the court, but lives everywhere.
From your point of view, what's the difference between partnership and sponsorship, specifically within sports and music?
As an industry, we've moved past the days of a passive "logo slap" as the defining characteristic of a sponsorship. Brands that have earned long-term loyalty understand that there is a degree of cultural IQ that is required to break through the clutter. True partnerships go beyond a one-time conversation and are defined by how much you can emotionally connect with your audience. Simply put, the notion of borrowed equity will only get you so far in the modern landscape—our team is excited to establish a new paradigm for partnership with the NBA.
Pepsi and Mountain Dew have made incredible investments over the years with music. What role will music play in the NBA partnership?
DEW has a strong heritage in music and for that reason, we are exploring different ways to weave music into the NBA partnership. Music is at the center of the hoops sport and lifestyle—from flowing out of the locker room and warm-ups, to on-the court and during down time, DEW differentiates itself by participating within the convergence of those pillars. For example, Mountain Dew charged the music throughout NBA All-Star 2016 by bringing top NBA DJs to various NBA events around Toronto. Fans everywhere voted to choose their favorite East Conference and West Conference team warm-up songs to be played live while NBA players get warmed-up for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.
You sit at a really dope spot within the convergence of brand and culture. How do you bring those two worlds together?
It starts with understanding the mutual relationship between core business insights, then identifying where trends and shifts occur and which opportunities are authentic to our brand's fan base, DEW Nation. A good example of how this came to life was at Mountain Dew's "Court Vision" experience at NBA All-Star several weeks ago. There, we brought together design, tech and sports through a virtual-reality application called Tiltbrush by Google, which allows users to create art in an interactive, three-dimensional space. We hosted a number of tastemakers, as well as DEW’s player partners, including Russell Westbrook, and just had fun in the spirit of celebrating the game in a new, creative way.
How does Mountain Dew stay authentic to its brand and the culture?
Historically, DEW has been a pioneer across many different cultural territories—the connective tissue being the brand's commitment to celebrating individuality. That universal mindset is critically important to how we approach everything on the brand, and has been our strongest point of differentiation. With the NBA, we're not embracing traditional "on the court" performance, but rather the fun and excitement that happens off the court in the lives of the fans and players. Our recently-launched NBA-themed TV campaign featuring Russell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler illustrates our point of view on how that authenticity comes to life.
How does Mountain Dew decide to partner with an athlete or artist?
Authenticity, as obvious at it may sound, is the key ingredient to any partnership we explore. DEW has always collaborated with individuals who thrive on making their mark and having fun while doing it.
With sports and music consumers cutting the chord and with social becoming a primary communication source, plus with so much content clutter, how does Mountain Dew decide what platforms to use to speak to and with consumers?
There is no "one size fits all" approach and "testing and iterating" serve as our guiding principles across all engagement platforms. There is certainly value in being the first mover in new storytelling formats and platforms in some instances, but we also benefit from the scale and institutional learnings of more established platforms in others. Wherever the youth culture conversation is happening, however, Mountain Dew will always have a presence.
REVOLT C-Suite is a twice-a-month Q&A where we will interview cultural movers and shakers who have displayed incredible business leadership, acumen and strategy. We will discuss branded content, partnership deals, social media strategy and much more. For the last column click, here.