Doug Young, 7 Up Spikes TV Ad Blasted for Jail Rape Jokes, Forbes.com, May 24, 2002.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The makers of the 7 Up
soft drink have yanked a TV commercial set in a prison off the air after
protests from a convict rights group over its alleged jail rape allusions.
The company pulled the 30-second commercial off
the airwaves Friday after the U.S. prisoner rights group, Stop Prison
Rape, said the ad trivialized the "serious physical and psychological
injury" inmates suffer from sexual abuse.
The ad, which was meant to be humorous, was part
of a popular but controversial campaign credited with helping the
73-year-old "uncola" shed its bland image and connect with a younger
audience. It was the first time 7 Up canceled an ad for objectionable
content, a spokeswoman said.
"This commercial was perpetuating the kind of
callousness that allows sexual abuse to continue in so many prisons
virtually unchecked," said Stop Prison Rape Executive Director Lara
Stemple. "We're very glad to hear that 7 Up has decided to stop sending
out the message that it's OK to laugh about rape when it involves people
The spot titled "Captive Audience," created by
New York-based ad agency Young & Rubicam Inc., features 7 Up pitchman
Godfrey in the slammer pitching the drink to inmates.
At one point, Godfrey, a comedian who goes by the
single name, is walking down a row of cells, handing out soda to each
prisoner he passes, when he accidentally drops a can. "I'm not picking
that up," he remarks.
In the final shot, he sits inside a cell with a
tattooed inmate whose arm is draped around him. "When you drink 7 Up,
everyone is your friend," Godfrey remarks, prompting the inmate to tighten
his arm just a bit to Godfrey's discomfort. "OK, that's enough being
friends," he says.
The prisoner rights group said men and women in
prison are routinely raped and sexually brutalized, causing "serious
physical and psychological injury."
"Unfortunately, jokes about rape in prison have
become alarmingly common," she said. "But sexual violence is occurring in
prison right now, to real people, causing real suffering."
Philippa Dworkin, a spokewoman for Dr
Pepper/Seven Up, a unit of UK-based Cadbury Schweppes , said the ad, which
had been airing for about two months, tested well with audiences and that
no objections were made at the time.
But she acknowledged the legitimacy of Stop
Prison Rape's concerns, which led to the company's Friday notification
that all networks should stop airing the spot. It was still featured on
the company's Web site (http://www.7up.com) as of Friday.
"We listened to what they had to say," she said.
"They had some very valid points about the ad being able to be interpreted
a different way from what we intended."
A recurring theme in 7 Up ads has been spoofing
the extremes that soft-drink makers go to in marketing their wares,
featuring enthusiastic but often inept spokesmen.
7 Up, the No. 8 soft-brank brand in the United
States, saw case shipments fall about 7 percent in 2001, as growth in the
whole industry stalled to less than 1 percent, according to Beverage
The lemon-lime soft-drink still ranks behind
Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite, the No. 5 brand, but the recent ad campaign has
helped shore up performance and drawn praise, said John Sicher, editor of
the industry newsletter.
"It was a brand that lost its way a bit in the
mid-1990s," Sicher said. "It's my view that the brand equity is worth more
now than it was five years ago."
In one earlier 7 Up commercial, that drew
protests from animal activist groups, former pitchman and up-and-coming
actor Orlando Jones tossed a can of 7 Up to a dog which was knocked out by
Another 7 Up ad featuring flatulence was rejected
by CBS as unsuitable for airing before the Super Bowl.
Copyright 2002, Reuters News Service