This Tiny Brand Strategy Firm Makes The Big Decisions For PepsiCo, Dominos and More

redscoutCEO Jonah Disend

Photo: Gus Lubin


Photo: Gus Lubin

PepsiCo is a $66 billion corporation with nearly 300,000 employees. It has an enormous marketing department. It also has relationship with TBWA Worldwide, a giant advertising company.Yet Pepsi trusts some of its biggest decisions to a tiny brand strategy firm staffed by former ad men and recent college grads.

We asked Redscout CEO Jonah Disend how his team gets special insight into brands and why major corporations trust them.

The ah-ha moment
Redscout was founded in 2000 by Disend, a strategic planner at DDB who was frustrated that his ideas weren’t getting through.

“I felt like a used car salesman,” Disend says, “whereas if the product were really intuitive, the marketing would be easy.”

Redscout asks clients to pay for brand strategy consulting before they hire an ad company.

“Dominos and Gatorade spent lots of money on advertising that didn’t move the needle, but that changed when they hired us,” he says.

The concept behind Redscout is to get a bunch of smart people to look at a brand from multiple angles and come up with a smart idea. This is a departure from the popular obsession over consumer testing and quantitative analysis.

As for how Redscout’s smart people can come up with better ideas than Pepsi’s smart people, Disend says his firm offers “head space” as well as a second opinion.

Redscout focuses on insights that don’t turn up in testing.

“Most companies tell you what consumers are saying. We want to focus on what they aren’t saying,” Disend says.

“You used to hear about time famine, but that didn’t make sense to us because you look how much time people spend watching TV. It turns out the issue is really energy famine,” Disend says, sharing an insight from a few years ago when researching energy drinks for PepsiCo.

Disend looks for good lateral thinkers from a variety of backgrounds, from industrial design to business school. His company is rare in the industry in that it hires some people straight out of college.

Recently Disend and a team of hybrid brand strategists went down to Mexico City to do research for Pepsi. They observed and talked to people buying Pepsi in movie theatres, restaurants and grocery stores.

“We try to get that ah-ha moment. And this time we really got it,” Disend says.

Greatest hits
Disend stole his first client, Johnson & Johnson, from his old employer.

The challenge with J&J’s Clean & Clear was how to win back market share when government regulations meant that all acne treatments were effectively the same. Redscout came up with the Advantage Acne Control Kit. By bundling multiple products, Clean & Clear branded itself as a serious treatment. What’s more the combination of multiple treatments was more effective than a standalone product.

“It’s a point of pride that this kit is still on the market after 10 years,” Disend says.

A few years later Redscout helped Gatorade to reverse declining sales. Redscout came up with another kit, the G Series, which offered a drink for before, during and after exercise. The point of the G Series was not just to sell units of “prime” and “recover,” but also to reestablish Gatorade as a drink for serious athletes.

Redscout was also behind the famously successful Domino’s rebranding campaign.

“What we realised is they were so focused on delivery that they were competing with FedEx more than with other food companies. What they needed was to focus on their product,” Disend says.

Redscout came up with the strategy, Crispin Porter + Bogusky came up with a brilliant ad campaign and Dominos recorded its fastest sales growth in history.

Much of Redscout’s work is behind the scenes, including involvement with several major products they can’t take credit for.

“People call us the CMO’s secret weapon,” Disend says.

In every room in Redscout’s office there is a bulletin boards covered in Post-It notes.

“Post-it is actually a client I would love to have,” Disend says. “I don’t think they take the brand as far as it could go as a tool to encourage lateral thinking.”

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