Alan Maxwell Pottasch, the advertising executive who helped create the hugely successful "Pepsi Generation" ad theme in the 1960s and who spent five decades sculpting Pepsi-Cola's public image as it battled for the top spot in the cola wars, died in his sleep Friday while visiting Los Angeles to shoot a commercial, the company announced.
He was 79. The cause of death was not known.
In 1957 when Pottasch began his work with Pepsi-Cola, archrival Coca-Cola outsold Pepsi six to one. The task as Pottasch and others in advertising saw it was to differentiate Pepsi from a product that was more like it than it was different.
The groundbreaking "Pepsi Generation" advertisements, launched in 1963, did what most campaigns in those days did not: It focused on the attributes of people who buy Pepsi, rather than attributes of the product such as taste or price.
"Pepsi was young, spirited, people doing active things -- playing volleyball on the beach.... but younger we said in mind, in attitude, in feeling. Young in spirit. Young in heart," Pottasch said in a podcast posted on the Yahoo! "Giants of Advertising" website.
The theme was launched as baby boomers and the youth culture they initiated began distinguishing themselves as a demographic and consumer group.
"For us to name and claim a whole generation after our product was a rather courageous thing that we weren't sure would take off," Pottasch said in the webcast. But soon "Pepsi Generation" became a part of the lexicon and pop culture. People referred to what we now call the baby boomers as the Pepsi Generation, Pottasch said.
"That of course is a dream for a product. It made Pepsi part of everything that was going on, and that is a great place to be."
By 1984 -- about two decades later -- the long-running slogan was changed to "The Choice of a New Generation" as a way to signal something new, a break with the past, Pottasch told Advertising Age in a 1998 interview. "And nothing signals new more strongly than music."
Those award-winning commercials featured stars such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, David Bowie and Lionel Richie. In a highly publicized incident, Jackson's hair caught fire while he was working on his commercial.
"I guess I'm best known for having burned Michael Jackson's hair," Pottasch said in the Yahoo podcast.
Pottasch was born Aug. 13, 1927, in Long Island, N.Y., and grew up in New York City. During World War II he served in the Navy. In 1949 Pottasch graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing. After attending a school for directors in New York he worked at a TV station in Dallas, and later was hired as a producer-director at ABC-TV in New York.
But Pottasch loved to travel and in 1957 began working on Pepsi's international promotions -- a job that took him around the world.
"Alan had an extraordinary ability to understand and connect with people, whether they were his family, friends, colleagues or consumers of the brands he loved to market," said Roger Enrico, former chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo Inc., a friend who collaborated with Pottasch. "He was a beautiful person -- creative, talented, funny and caring."
In 1991 Pottasch announced his retirement, but he continued working with the company, gradually rejoining full time. During his tenure, Pepsi went from being out-sold by Coca-Cola six to one in some markets to being on par, Pottasch said. The "Pepsi Generation" campaign marked the turning point and was clearly, Pottasch said in the podcast, "the highlight of my career."
At one event in 1963, after the launch of the Pepsi Generation campaign, Pottasch stood at a podium accepting cheers from 4,000 Pepsi bottlers.
"I felt so great, and I just took a moment, looked at them all ... grabbed my favorite drink [and took a sip]. And it brought the house down."
Pottasch lived in New Fairfield, Conn., with his wife, Lisa Pottasch, who survives him. He is also survived by a daughter, Allison Pottasch; a son, Alan Pottasch Jr.; two stepchildren, Gyongyi Plucer-Rossario and Lorand Plucer; and a sister, Harriet Selig.