Consumers Get Their
Irish Up Over 7Up Ads

Willie the leprechaun sells dnL soda on the streets of New York in Dr. Pepper/Seven Up's new ad.

By Craig McGuire, Contributor
December / January 2004

Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc. recently re-edited its U.S. television commercial when scores of irate Irish-Americans phoned in complaining of what sounded like a leprechaun shouting an ethnic slur.

In the commercial, a foul-tempered leprechaun is pulling a wagon through the streets of New York City hawking dnL, Dr Pepper/Seven Up’s new caffeinated, carbonated fruit-flavored soda aimed at chipping away at Coca Cola’s formidable Mountain Dew market share. (dnL is 7Up upside down.)

A New York police officer confronts wee Willie and asks if he has a permit for the wagon. Willie snarls back, “I’m not real, you moron, I’m a myth.” But that is not what some people heard.

“I guess if you don’t listen closely it may sound like mick instead of myth,” conceded Michael Martin a spokesman for the Plano, Texas-based company.

While Dr Pepper/Seven Up often runs commercials for extended periods, as the Willie ad was introducing a new product it was only scheduled to run from July through the end of September, said Martin.

Still, the Irish ire was enough to prompt Dr Pepper/Seven Up’s chief advertising officer to authorize an “audio-track adjustment” that more clearly enunciated the yth in myth, Martin added.

All together, while there were positive comments, the majority of the 65 callers either phoned in to complain or were asking for clarification.

Ironically, the Irish character was selected to endear consumers to 7Up, and certainly not offend and alienate an entire demographic by using the “M” word, Martin said.

“The reason we picked a leprechaun was we were trying to accentuate the connection between the green color and the product,” Martin said. “Consumer research revealed we needed to more fully leverage the green color in our advertising. So, it just made sense to tie it to run with an Irish theme.”

In fact, according to market data compiled by C&C Group plc, one of the largest beverage distributors in Ireland, 7Up has a 20.7 percent share of the carbonated soft drinks market and it dominates the lemon and lime sector with an 86.5 percent share.

Additionally, C&C reports that the Irish drink ten times as much 7Up as the average European consumer and Ireland sells more cases of 7Up than any other country in Europe. In short, this makes for the highest per capita consumption of 7Up in the world, reported C&C Group.

Considering 7Up’s penetration into Ireland’s beverage industry, PepsiCo wants to distance itself from Willie’s ranting. While Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc., a business unit of London-based Cadbury Schweppes plc, distributes 7Up throughout North America, everywhere else in the world it is actually owned by PepsiCo.

“We want you to make perfectly clear that we had nothing to do with this advertisement,” said a spokesman for PepsiCo.

PepsiCo, however, has had its own Irish problems in the past.

Last summer, shortly after signing a £500,000, nine-month deal with the famously explosive Manchester United Irish soccer star Roy Keane, the midfielder was sacked as captain of the Ireland World Cup squad and sent home in disgrace.

His dismissal was a blow for the brand’s promotional run-up to the World Cup. The midfielder starred in pre-recorded TV and radio ads, and his face was featured on billboards, millions of cans, packaging, and in-store promotions.

The company was also forced to take down giant posters featuring the football star, many of which were defaced, saying it was “shocked and disappointed” by the situation which was the result of a profanity-laden clash between Keane and Ireland manager Mick McCarthy.

To preserve its market share, the brand has also sponsored everything from the 7Up Tropical Splash Irish Junior Surf Team to the Celestial Jig 7Up Skyfest, a pyrotechnics display that was part of a St. Patrick’s Day celebration this year. ♦

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