John N. Frank, 7Up Vows to Include PR at Early Stage of Ad Planning, PR Week, June 3, 2002.

LOS ANGELES: Dr Pepper/7Up's PR department will get more involved in reviewing possible advertising now that the company has pulled a recent ad following protests from a human-rights group.

The cancelled 7Up ad joked about prison rape, raising the ire of Stop Prisoner Rape, a California coalition of groups concerned with the issue.

Group executive director Lara Stemple wrote 7Up on March 8, expressing her concerns about the ad. 7Up's PR department responded that the ad had tested well among its target market of 18- to 23-year-olds, and was not meant to offend.

'We never looked at it from the human-rights angle,' admitted Philippa Dworkin, VP of corporate communications with Dr Pepper/7Up. The company also did not receive the number of complaints that normally would cause it to review an ad, she explained, adding, 'The number of complaints we got would not have alerted us to the problem.'

But in the future, Dworkin wants to get her department involved in planned advertising at the concept stage to avoid any similar PR problems with future advertising.

Stemple's protests moved from contacting 7Up, to an organizing drive to get groups concerned with issues such as sexual violence, prison rights, and civil rights to join her campaign against the ad.

When the ad was moved from cable to broadcast networks on April 29, Stemple began a media relations campaign, garnering coverage in such outlets as The Washington Post.

'7Up's response was really frustrating to us at first,' she said. An e-mail from 7Up on May 7 said the company had no plans to pull the ad.

Stemple finally reached the top of the 7Up PR chain, telling Dworkin that her group was authoring an op-ed piece on the ad for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Dworkin quickly contacted Stemple, and assured her the ad would be pulled.

'I did not feel she was giving up a corporate PR whitewash. She was really concerned,' said Stemple of Dworkin.

Dworkin admitted her department had mishandled initial complaints from Stemple. The staffer who initially received Stemple's e-mail should have called her to discuss the problem rather than use e-mail, Dworkin said.