JDI IN THE NEWS - 2002

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?