The gospel according to John was that while in the early 1990s, relatively few people were online or even had computers, Vail knew the Internet would be a major factor. Thanks to the prescience and persistence of the man who would become director of digital marketing and media for Pepsi-Cola North America, the world's No. 2 soft drink company has become an online leader.
"Today it seems obvious to everyone that, of course, you have to be in the digital space or at least have a presence on the Internet. But if you rewind five, six, seven years ago, it wasn't so obvious then. There was a lot of trepidation and concern about how consumers would adopt it," says Frank Cooper, vice president of promotions, interactive, and entertainment at Pepsi. "John was one of the first to make that bold step forward. He was saying, 'We don't know how it's all going to turn out, but we do know the impact is going to be significant. We need to play today so we can be effective tomorrow.'"
Pepsi began to crystallize its interactive media concept in 1995, when Vail paid $75 to register the domain Pepsistuff.com. Pepsi.com and Pepsiworld.com launched on Feb. 29, 1996. That year also marked the company's first online endeavor, in which Pepsi asked users to download the prize catalog for Pepsistuff, then an offline promotion. The measure saved $10 million in printing costs and had 400,000 downloads the first month.
"It triggered us to say, 'Wow, imagine if we ever had the opportunity to actually run a program online. Think of the power and the savings,'" Vail recalls. Pepsi's latest online initiative is a partnership with Microsoft to give away more than 9,000 XBOX 360 video game consoles, one every 10 minutes for nine consecutive weeks. Even before the promotion started on Aug. 28, more than 100,000 people had pre-registered on Pepsi's placeholder site. The effort marks the company's 10th online-based, under-the-cap code promotion since 2000 and the fourth this year, following one with Apple for free music downloads.
After two years on the WB, the brand's Pepsi Smash concert series moved to the Web with Yahoo! Music in June. Wenda Harris Millard, Yahoo!'s chief sales officer, observes, "John was one of the first marketers to get onboard with online in a big way, taking Pepsi's successful PepsiStuff promotional program and putting it online via Yahoo! back in 2000."