Pepsi Santa and Plucky Pirates Find Success

By J.F. McKenna

Pardon my French, but the business world could show a little more le coup d’oeil de genie.

The same nation that gave the world entrepreneurship — from the verb to undertake — also coined the expression “the stroke of the eye of genius.” Typically, the expression is military parlance, shorthand for quickly sizing up the tactical advantage. Let me add a touch of American improvement and say that le coup d’oeil de genie implies not only recognition but application of an advantage.

Business is hammered between sagging economic conditions and pernicious government interference. But smart companies don’t patiently wait for business cycles to improve or for Uncle Sam to fashion over-regulated rescues. They eye their individual circumstances and, to use a street-smart Yankee expression, “make their own breaks.”

Pepsi is the latest case in point. The soft-drink manufacturer just created Christmas in July for itself. Having lost competitive ground to Coke and Diet Coke, Pepsi is challenging a decades-old relationship between its top competitor and Father Christmas. (If you don’t easily recall the painterly ads of St. Nick swigging Coke by the holiday tree, you have missed a lot of classic Christmases. Click on: .)

In a new commercial, vacationing Santa orders Pepsi from an astonished tiki bar vendor.

“Make it a Pepsi,” Santa says.

“But, Santa,” says the bemused soda-tender, “I thought you had a deal with…you know.”

In a tone both jolly and conspiratorial, Santa replies: “I’m on vacation. Havin’ a little fun.”

Santa’s elves get the last word in this clever commercial. “Naughty,” the first says. His cohort replies: “But nice.”

Ingenious, too. The lighthearted commercial makes you smile. It also repositions Pepsi in your mind, taking a page straight from Al Ries and Jack Trout’s classic Positioning. “For a repositioning strategy to work,” the authors write, “you must say something about your competitor’s product that causes the prospect to change his or her mind, not about your product, about the competitor’s product.”

Voila! le coup d’oeil de genie.

Watch for more buzz about Pepsi Santa and for the advertising mavens’ christening of The Pepsi Regeneration.

Meanwhile, my favorite National League diamond cutters are doing much the same. After 18 consecutive losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise is washing some color out of the Red Sox in intra-league play and winning back scores of fans every time a game is played in PNC Park.

Give a lot of the credit not only to the front office but also to new manager Clint Hurdle, the former Colorado Rockies skipper who leads with an out-of-the-batters-box attitude every day.

“Years of free-agent defections and draft-day busts turned the Pirates from pennant winners into perennial losers,” Seth Livingstone writes in this week’s USA Today Sports Weekly. “But 2011 has been different. Despite injuries…Hurdle has transformed a team that won 57 games last year into a band of believers who are daring to dream beyond the elusive .500 threshold.”

Hurdle grasps that tactical advantage starts with attitude. “My goal,” he says, “is to be a small part of a group of men trying to make a difference here and rebound a city with a baseball team.”

If you’re scoring at home, the appropriate abbreviation is LCDDG — le coup d’oeil de genie.

Those are just two current examples. There are others. And there is no reason the next one can’t come from your company. As the great Peter Drucker once remarked, “It is not size that is an impediment to entrepreneurship and innovation; it is the existing operation itself, and especially the existing successful operation….Operating anything — a manufacturing plant, a technology, a product line, a distribution system — requires constant effort and attention.”

And that essential dash of le coup d’oeil de genie.


J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at . To view the Pepsi commercial click on: .



  1. There’s much to be said about le coup d’oeil de genie.

    Today’s headline (July 16) from Pittsburgh says it all–“Division Doormat No Longer: PIRATES 1ST IN CENTRAL.”

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