View from the C-Suite: PepsiCo Foods says it’s not them, it’s you

New CMO Jess Spaulding's fresh take on how to use data to build on iconic brands.


PepsiCo Foods’ new CMO, Jess Spaulding, wants you to know that her marketing strategy isn’t about the brand.

If you’re scratching your head, just hear us out.

When it comes to growth and strategic development, Spaulding believes that the best way to cut through the noise is for brands to stop talking relentlessly about themselves, and instead shift the focus to the consumer: what’s on their minds, what’s important to them and what will inspire them.

And sometimes that comes in the form of a nearly 17-foot statue of a hand covered in cheesy dust. The “Cheetle” hand statue, featured prominently in Cheadle, Alberta, spoke directly to a need consumers both knew, and never knew, that they needed: laughter at something preposterously ridiculous.

Indirectly talking about your brand? Check. Tapping into pop culture? Check. Sparking conversation even if the starting question was, “Why?” Mission accomplished.

But for Spaulding, the strategy to look outside the brand doesn’t stop at marketing. This year, she’s also worked to launch Stacy’s Rise Project in Canada, an initiative that supports women in business. With PepsiCo Foods’ goal of reaching and maintaining 50% of managerial roles held by women, Spaulding deliberately inserts herself into positions where she, and the brand, empower women.

Here, Spaulding shares more about PepsiCo Foods’ marketing evolution, and her plan to overcome the challenges that face the industry today.

You took over as PepsiCo Foods’ CMO recently, starting in spring 2022. What have been the first few top priorities you’ve been focused on tackling?

I’ve been with PepsiCo since 2009 and in that time have seen an incredible growth in our marketing strategies that have firmly rooted us in the hearts and habits of our consumers.

But it’s no secret that breaking through the noise and the clutter is an ongoing challenge for all marketers. To me, the most memorable brands are going a step further and breaking through something even less tamable: culture.

Our challenge across all of our brands is to make the move away from talking about ourselves and our products and focus more on how our brands fit within popular culture and into the lives of our consumers. My priority is to inspire this shift in mindset and to find ways for our brands to create an even more memorable legacy – one that gets Canadians talking.

Most importantly, this starts with understanding the values of our brands and defining why they exist in the world. To me, that’s the foundation for how you do great work, and it sits at the centre of our team culture and what we’re building.

As we dig into the creative side, we’re on a mission to think differently and to push boundaries, to raise the ambition of what our brands can stand for and the impact they can make in the lives of Canadians. I’m a big believer in trusting your gut, and we often ask ourselves, “Does the idea connect with people?” “Can this inspire or touch people in some way?” “Do the stories and experiences feel personal, and are they worthy of the love of our fans?” We believe in data and research and sweating the details, but there’s a very real human element to all of this, and if my gut is telling me “Yes,” that’s when I get excited about an idea.

You helped launch Stacy’s Rise Project, an initiative that supports women in business, in the U.S., and are now helping bring that program to Canada for the first time. How does Stacy’s Rise Project align with PepsiCo Foods’ vision for women in business, and why was now the right time to launch it in Canada?

As a broader company, PepsiCo is aiming to achieve and sustain 50 percent women in managerial roles by 2030 – a vision I am so proud to help bring to life. One of my highlights of working on the PepsiCo team in the U.S. was having the pleasure to act as a judge of the Stacy’s Rise Project – a program committed to empowering and supporting women entrepreneurs on their paths to establishing a successful business through funding, mentorship and community.

I had the opportunity to see first-hand the incredible, talented and driven women this initiative has supported. While many know of the Stacy’s brand, you might not know that the brand was founded by Stacy Madison, a trailblazing entrepreneur who turned her sandwich cart into the multinational brand it is today. Helping women rise is in our brand’s DNA – and it’s why we’ve rallied around the Stacy’s Rise Project to amplify women’s voices and talents, because when one woman rises, we all rise.

In Canada, there are over one million women entrepreneurs, but many of these women face barriers to proper funding and mentorship, which limits professional growth. Across the country, women-owned businesses receive an estimated 4% of venture capital funding, so we know there is a lot more work to be done to bring us closer to gender equality and ensure women entrepreneurs have the resources to rise to their full potential. For this reason and many others, it’s important that opportunities like the Stacy’s Rise Project that are specifically dedicated to supporting women are available to women entrepreneurs in Canada and beyond.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing marketing today? What strategies can you implement to overcome them?

Media fatigue and information overload is a growing issue we all experience being part of such a connected world. With that comes heavy exposure to many important and serious issues around the world.

As a result, a trend you may start to notice across marketing strategies is the need for humour and levity – two important elements that can really lift the spirits of your audience, in a time they may need it most. For us, this recently came to life with the Cheetos brand and a show-stopping statue that has captured attention across the world.

Cheetos fans have always known that the iconic orange dust on their fingertips is an unmistakably delicious part of the Cheetos experience, but few know that there is an official term for it: Cheetle. The Cheetos brand is always rooted in mischievous fun and humour, so we wanted to find a unique way to celebrate Canadians’ orange-dusted fingertips, and generate awareness of its official name, Cheetle. In the spirit of mischief, we erected a statue of this very concept – a giant hand holding a Cheeto and bright orange Cheetle dust – in an Albertan town with a kindred name: Cheadle.

It’s critical now more than ever to form a deep connection with consumers, to understand their lives and what they care about, and to show up for them in a way that’s genuine. Sales come as a result of consistently showing you care about what the consumer cares about, bringing joy, smiles and entertainment to the world, and of course, doing so in a way that aligns with our brand values.

When you lean into your authentic roots and understand what your brand does for people, you’re on the right course for the future. Those in marketing have a tendency to obsess over data, but I like the old adage that content is king. What you deliver in each interaction between your brand and the consumer is the most important thing. It’s not the data that builds iconic brands. It’s what you decide to do with it.

Finally, are there any exciting partnerships, projects or campaigns on the horizon for PepsiCo Foods?

We’re delighted to announce that, in early 2023, Stacy’s Rise Project will debut a short film that features four past Stacy’s Rise recipients, shining a light on the stories of their heritage, struggles and success as entrepreneurs. The film is directed by Canadian film director Nisha Ganatra and narrated by Canadian poet Rupi Kaur and will debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2023. It’s one of many projects we are excited to bring to life in the new year.