Barry Shlachter, 7UP Ad Draws Criticism Over Prison Images, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 4, 2002.
All 7UP executives wanted were edgy, off-beat ads laced with humor
that would break through the cacophonous clutter of TV commercials.
A spot in a prison setting has given them more edge than they might have
A 7UP pitchman hands out the fizzy lemon-lime drink to eager hands darting
through prison bars, then refuses to bend over to pick up a dropped can.
Later, he looks uncomfortable seated on a cell bunk with a bearded inmate
who places a heavily tattooed arm around him.
Last month, a Los Angeles-based group called Stop Prisoner Rape, or SPR,
said it finds nothing funny about the references to sexual assault behind
Saying it has support from more than 80 other like-minded organizations,
SPR said Plano, Texas,-based Dr Pepper/Seven Up has refused to stop airing
the ad. SPR said it is now appealing to the soft drink maker’s parent
corporation, Britain’s Cadbury-Schweppes, to pull it.
The spot, which debuted during the February telecast of the Grammy Awards,
is scheduled to run 120-150 times through the end of the year, often on
youth-oriented programs, SPR complained. It features the comedian Godfrey
Danchimah, who uses only his first name professionally.
“No company would make jokes about rape outside of the prison context,”
said Lara Stemple, 30, a Harvard-trained attorney and executive director
of Stop Prisoner Rape. “Men and women are routinely raped and sexually
brutalized in prisons throughout the country.”
Stemple said there are no plans to boycott 7UP, saying that SPR mainly
wants to use the issue to educate the public.
“It’s time to stop the joking and start taking sexual violence against men
and women behind bars seriously,” she said.
Michael Martin, chief spokesman for the soft drink company, said the 7UP’s
sole aim was to create a humorous commercial. Rounds of test screenings
confirmed that the average person would not take the rape references
seriously, Martin said.
He said the company has received a “handful of complaints and a handful
saying they love” the commercial.
“For anybody who is offended, we apologize, because obviously it is not
our intent to offend anybody,” he said.
But he said 7UP has no plans to kill the spot.
“We understand this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed,” Martin
said. “We believe the appropriate people to address it are people are in
the criminal justice and corrections systems.”
Martin expressed irritation with Stemple, who cited the commercial during
an interview with a New York newspaper. The paper was reporting on a Texas
inmate who sued the state prison system for not protecting him from what
he alleges is being sold into “sexual slavery.”
“The fact of the matter is that they have a right to bring attention to
the issue, it’s a serious issue,” Martin said. “By using 7UP, it gives
them a platform to put something out now. If they didn’t have the
commerical, they’d really have nothing to talk about now.”
This is not the first time Dr Pepper/Seven Up has been in hot water with
The company was attacked by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,
or PETA, for using chimps as highway patrol cops in a parody of the old
“CHIPS” TV show. They pull over the series star, Erik Estrada, who was
driving a banana truck. The group opposes exploitation of animals for