Former Coca-Cola marketer Chuck Fruit dies at 61

New York - Charles 'Chuck' Fruit, the former chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola, has died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack at 61.

Fruit, who also held top positions at Anheuser-Busch before moving to Coca-Cola in the early 90s, is regarded as one of the most innovative and pioneering marketers to rise to the top of his profession.

He joined Anheuser-Busch in 1976 as an advertising manager for Busch beer, and over 15 years climbed through the ranks to become the brewer's vice-president of media and sports marketing.

He was credited with persuading Anheuser-Busch to move its advertising budget into cable TV, particularly into sports programmes, before it became fashionable.

He is also supported the then-novel strategy of plastering the Anheuser-Busch brand all over boxing rings and other playing surfaces where it would constantly be on camera.

In 1991, he left the brewer for Coca-Cola, where he held a variety of roles, including two stints as chief marketing officer.

During his time at Coke, he helped develop the long-running 'Always Coca-Cola' campaign, but was also instrumental in helping the company become less reliant on 30-second spots in favour of less-traditional buys and sponsorships.

Fruit was also behind Coca-Cola's early product-placement deal with 'American Idol', which saw the judges drink the company's products on the air.

Fruit retired from Coke in 2005 and has served as an adviser to the company since.

In an internal memo, Coca-Cola said: "A great deal of Chuck's success can be attributed to his endless curiosity and sense of wonder. He was a fan of pop culture, a connoisseur of film and a student of history.

"And although his professional responsibilities might have left little time for such things, Chuck was always willing to give a respectful hearing to sales pitches and cold calls, no matter how seemingly far-fetched.

"To his colleagues in marketing, Chuck was steady and level-headed, a beacon of calm and courage in an industry characterized by endless, relentless change.

"His presence was reassuring to everyone who worked with him: no matter what else happened, Chuck would be there, and he would always come through."