Inmate advocates chide 7UP, Star-Telegram Staff Writer, April 30, 2002.
All that 7UP executives wanted were edgy, offbeat ads laced with humor
that would break through the cacophonous clutter of TV commercials.
A spot set in a prison 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 sitting on a cell bunk with a bearded inmate
who places his heavily tattooed arm around him.
On Monday, a Los Angeles-based group called Stop Prisoner Rape, or SPR,
said it found nothing funny about the references to sexual assault behind
Saying it has support from more than 80 other similar organizations, SPR
said Plano-based Dr Pepper/7UP has refused to stop airing the ad. SPR said
it is appealing to the soft-drink maker's parent corporation, Britain's
Cadbury Schweppes, to pull the ad.
The spot, which debuted during the February telecast of the Grammy Awards,
is scheduled to run 120 to 150 times through the end of the year, often on
youth-oriented programs, SPR said in its complaint. It features 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, an 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 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
allegedly 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
commercial, they'd really have nothing to talk about now."
This is not the first time Dr Pepper/7UP has been the target of complaints
from interest groups.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, protested the
company's use of chimps as highway patrol cops in a parody of the CHiPS TV
show. They pull over the series star, Erik Estrada, who is driving a
banana truck. PETA opposes exploitation of animals for entertainment
Another animal welfare group protested a spot that showed a 7UP can
seemingly being thrown at a dog, although Humane Society representatives
were on the set and no animal was injured, Martin said.
Then the conservative American Family Foundation launched an e-mail
campaign after Sept. 11 when Dr Pepper released patriotic-themed cans
including three words from the Pledge of Allegiance - "one nation ...
indivisible" - but deleted the words "under God."