The marketing history of America’s favorite lemon-lime soda, 7UP, proves that sometimes reality is stranger than fiction.
Hey all, Ernie here with a piece from David Buck, who is spending tonight taking a tour through one of the more iconic brands on the soda aisle. Without further ado, Make 7 Up Yours.
Today in Tedium: For the past few years, we’ve brought our readers a deep dive into the unique marketing histories of some of our favorite brands. First, there was our interview with the golden voice behind those famous Motel 6 ads, Tom Bodett. Last year, we reaffirmed that there is, in fact, no wrong way to eat a Reese’s. Why not keep the tradition alive? In today’s Tedium, we’re going behind the fizz with a refreshing look into the marketing history of everyone’s favorite un-cola, 7UP. — David @ Tedium
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The year lithium citrate was removed from 7UP’s recipe. Originally one of the seven ingredients contained in the soda, lithium citrate was included by the drink’s inventor for its purported health benefits and supposed positive effects on mood. After some research determined the substance to be potentially dangerous, it was removed—but for some reason, the idea that lemon lime soda or flat soda can help ease an upset stomach or nausea persists to this day. Though it’s a popular notion and the subject of some debate, it’s probably better not to drink soda when you’re nauseous. Be sure to tune in next time as we dive into whether or not Dr. Pepper contains prune juice (nevermind; it doesn’t).
Nothing does it like 7UP: the rise of the lemon-lime soda
The soft drink we now know as 7UP was invented and made its way onto the soft drink market in 1929—just a few weeks before the start of The Great Depression.
Created by Charles Leiper Grigg, the drink was called Bib-label Lithiated Lemon-lime Soda before Grigg eventually changed the name to 7UP. According to actor/pop culture writer Eddie Deezan, this was probably because the drink had seven ingredients—carbonated water, sugar citric acid, lithium citrate, sodium citrate, and essences of lemon and lime oils—and the bubbles flowed upward. Although this seems to be the most plausible reason, it may not be true. There are actually quite a few other possible reasons it’s called “7UP” including the phrase “seven up” consisting of seven letters and the original bottle having a volume of seven ounces.
Grigg had originally been in the orange soda business, but due to the success of Orange Crush, he needed to come up with something that would effectively compete and be more successful in the market. He wanted to stand out in the soft drink market and create something that would be uniquely his own while simultaneously grabbing the consumer’s love and attention. His new soft drink competed with over 600 other lemon-lime flavored sodas at the time, but sold pretty well … perhaps due to the lithium contained in the soft drink in addition to 7UP’s lemon and lime flavoring.
Early advertising for the soda was straightforward, with a simple slogan: “Seven natural flavors blended into a savory, flavory drink with a real wallop.” Over its first few years, the beverage was also marketed as a potential hangover cure (though it apparently has nothing on Sprite in that regard). Later, 7UP was being advertised in Ladies Home Journal as a way to coax fussy babies into drinking their milk. The “Nothing Does it Like 7UP” campaign continued to tout the supposed health benefits of the beverage. 7UP continued to revamp and evolve in its advertising, but met with mixed results. By 1967, the soda was losing steam and the brand needed a new angle. Although it had established itself as a popular mixer since the end of prohibition, 7UP wasn’t really hip. A rejuvenation/reinvention was just what the doctor ordered and a new identity for the company was born.
“Crisp and clean, and no caffeine; never had it, never will.”
— Geoffrey Holder, the pitchman for 7UP during 70s and 80s, in a 1983 ad focusing on 7UP’s lack of caffeine as a selling point. Holder was an established veteran actor, dancer, and choreographer by the time he began voicing 7UP ads. With a voice similar to that of James Earl Jones, Holder cooly and calmly explains what separates the Uncola from the competition in a warm, calm tone.
Birth of the Uncola: How 7UP became adept at marketing
In the late 1960s, 7UP began referring to themselves as the Uncola in attempt to compete with Coca-Cola. This identity separated the brand from its peers and firmly established 7UP as a great alternative to its more “corporate” competition from the cola drinks that saturated the soft drink market at the time. From about 1969-1973, they experimented with colorful, almost psychedelic ads, which seemed to help. Per Flashbak.com:
The UNCOLA campaign changed everything and the ads seemed to say: ‘This is a drink that is definitely not Cola and we are different and we are proud of the difference’. Within a few months the ads sent 7UP sales rocketing.
Artwork was always an important aspect of the campaign and 7UP even used graffitti aesthetics and modern art styles in their print advertisements during the Uncola campaign. Different styles and concepts abounded in their artwork, but the campaign evolved to greater heights with their audio/video component. 7UP hired Geoffrey Holder to be the voice and image of the campaign on television and radio.
Notable spots are where he warns us about imitators like those other clear sodas in the “Un-Cola, Ahhhhh!” spot:
Or when he gives viewers/listeners an in-depth overview of the difference between cola nuts and uncola nuts (which are just lemons and limes) in “7UP, the Uncola”:
The Uncola campaign continued for some time, but was replaced in 1982 by the successful “no caffeine” ads that were popular at the time. On the heels of that success, 7UP revisited the Uncola ads and rehired Geoffrey Holder to lend them his magnificent voice, further cementing the idea of 7UP as a preferable over Pepsi or Coke. The “no caffeine” angle harkens back to the drink’s roots as a beverage with health benefits and ties nicely into 7UP’s overall brand identity.
Never content to pick a tagline and stick with it, 7UP’s also used tagline like “You like it, it like you” and much later, the happy-go-lucky—not to mention very 70’s inspired—“Feeling 7UP” ads that featured athletic stars like Magic Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard, and others in the early to mid-80s. Each one ended with the phrase “Feeling lucky seven, feeling seventh heaven, feeling 7UP,” positioning the beverage as not only a family-friendly drink, but something that simply makes its drinkers happy. It helps that the tune is quite catchy. I bet you won’t be able to get it out of your head for at least a week. Then, there was the fantastic 7UP Pac-Man ad which must be seen to be believed. No Pac-Man pattern memorization required.
Despite this uncertain, somewhat fickle branding, the idea that 7UP is the Uncola never faded away. Even with attempts to distance themselves from the branding, Uncola is still synonymous with the brand. Now, that’s effective advertising.
Building on these successes, the brand eventually came to have two distinct mascots in two different parts of the world: the Cool Spot in the United States and a little doodle named Fido Dido across the pond.
The Cool Spot—whom we’ve already covered here at Tedium fairly well—was an anthropomorphic version of the red dot from the 7UP logo who wore shades. (He appeared at roughly the same time brand icons known for wearing shades—including Chester Cheetah, the California Raisins, the Energizer Bunny, and Pepsi’s human mascot, Ray Charles—were hard to avoid in sponsorships.) He starred in several television commercials and a few video games, but ultimately faded into advertising history as the company moved in an altogether different advertising direction.
“You are what you are and what you are is okay.”
— The Fido Dido philosophy, according to his creator, Sue Rose. Originally sketched on a napkin by Rose in 1985, the wily character quickly became the face of a number of T-shirts and took off in popularity. By 1988, he became the face of 7UP in the UK, starring in a few of their ads. He became even more beloved and recognizable in the 1990s as his cool character and minimalist design resonated with the public. Fido Dido—who sort of reminds me of Doug from the Nickelodeon cartoon of the same name—was also the star of a few advergames, filling the same role the Cool Spot played in the US. Fido Dido was recently revived as part of the UK’s “Feels good to be free” campaign.
Making 7 Up Yours: How the soda company used edgy wordplay to get late-’90s attention
Though many other, largely forgettable ads came and went through the 1990s, 7UP struck gold with the “Make 7 Up Yours” campaign in 1999. The brainchild of ad agency Young & Rubicam, the ads sought to combat a common dilemma: a lack of interest and connection to the brand. Featuring actor/comedian Orlando Jones as a spokesman inviting people to make 7UP a part of their lives. Perhaps the most famous spot is the one where Jones strolls down a street wearing a green shirt with “make 7” written on one side and “up yours” on the other. He excitedly tells people how he is coming up with new slogans for the brand and proceeds to seemingly “insult” others with the phrase “Make 7 … Up Yours!” It’s catching on already …
More television spots followed and the campaign saw a heavy emphasis on radio in order to communicate its message more effectively to its target audience. As a result, the campaign seemed to be going strong. Per the advertising and marketing database at Effie.com, the campaign was also quite successful:
The “Make 7 UP Yours” campaign was designed to dispel perceptions of 7 UP as being boring, old and bland, without abandoning its core equity of innocence. The campaign positions 7 UP as a “license for a little fun” making the brand more relevant and differentiated to its 12-24 year-old target. The campaign successfully contemporized and energized 7 UP’s image and brand personality, while building brand awareness by 71 percent, ad awareness by 57 percent and past 6-month usage among its core target by 18.4 percent.
Through the use of humor, irreverence, and charismatic spokespersons, the ads connected with the public in a way that stuff like Cool Spot never could. They’re funny and sort of tame by today’s standards, but certainly didn’t exist without a measure of controversy. ABC refused to air one of the spots during the 1999 Super Bowl because they found it “objectionable.” Another spot was pulled for vastly different reasons in 2002. Eventually, Orlando Jones moved on from the ad campaign around 2001, to focus on his budding film career. The ad campaign continued for some time after with the comedian Geoffrey—but like all things in advertising—it, too, faded away.
The edition of the Super Bowl where the infamous “show us your cans” spot aired. Part of the hilarious “Make 7UP Yours” campaign, the year 2000 spot features Orlando Jones seated at a desk and surrounded by mail. In a delightful parody of various brand sweepstakes, he tells viewers he’s judging a contest showing off the best 7UP cans. What he receives, however, are images of folks showing off their fully clothed posteriors in various poses. “I should have specified,” Jones laments prior to seeing the last picture and exclaiming, “Mom?” as the ad ends. Really makes you want to grab a can of 7UP for yourself, doesn’t it?
As times change—and advertising changes right along with it—the brand has been forced to evolve in the way it markets its product. Part of that is through the use of social media to reach a younger audience and the marketing of 7UP as some kind of “feel good” product.
Perhaps taking the nature of our constantly on-the-go world into consideration, the official website also has recipes built around 7UP (like the vodka-based “Ultra Uncola”) and their newest campaign focuses on positioning the soda as more than a mere soft drink with its “Do More with 7UP” ads. Why not use 7UP to liven up your barbecue or to bake a cake? It even makes a great lip balm, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Now owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, 7UP has gone through numerous flavor iterations, and of course a few newer ad campaigns; but nothing will catch the nostalgia and memory of some of the great past campaigns of the company. I may not drink soda anymore, but when I look back on these old ad campaigns, I can say one thing with great certainty—I am, in fact, feeling 7UP.
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