THE IMAGE: Cracking the Code of Advertising, Washington Post, May 3, 2002.
The Tagline: "Make 7Up Yours."
The Company: 7Up, the nation's seventh-largest carbonated soft drink
seller, owned and operated by Cadbury Schweppes PLC.
The Campaign: Created by ad giant Young & Rubicam Inc., whose clients
include NASCAR, AT&T and Sony, this ad is one of six irreverent 7Up
spots airing on cable and network television through 2002. It aims at
the prime soft-drink market -- 12- to 24-year-olds. Launched in 1999,
the campaign uses comic actors as faux 7Up spokesmen testing marketing
ideas that always go awry - apparent to all except the spokesman.
The Ad: In this ad, "Captive Audience," the spokesman hands out 7Up in a
prison. He drops a can and says, "I'm not picking that up," referencing
the old "don't drop the soap" joke. Later, he sits in a cell, hugged by
an inmate. "When you bring the 7Up everyone is your friend," the
spokesman says. Then he appears nervous: "Okay, that's enough being
friends." The cell door slams.
The Controversy: Stop Prisoner Rape, a small Los Angeles-based advocacy
group, is asking 7Up to pull the ad, saying it makes light of prison
rape. "No corporation would ever run an ad about rape unless it was
about prisoners," said Lara Stemple, the group's executive director.
"This commercial promotes callousness." The group further criticizes 7Up
for placing the ad on youth-oriented shows and networks, such as MTV.
Michael Martin, 7Up's director of corporate communications, said he
understands Stemple's concerns, but the ad will not be pulled.
"Consumers are telling us they can differentiate between reality and a
commercial," he said. He offered that the ad may actually raise
awareness of prison rape, which Stemple calls "absurd."
The Meaning: Is the comic implication of prison rape funny? Are
prisoners the last politically unprotected figures of fun, now that
jokes based on gender and ethnicity are off-limits? Or does the ad
simply exploit a shopworn comedic trope, like dressing a man in drag?