This is a story about being different, being unpredictable and having the courage to take a road less traveled by others.
John Smith, media director for Dr Pepper Co. based in Dallas, said those words as he began to tell Dr Pepper's tale at a meeting of the Oklahoma City Advertising Club last month.
Smith has been in charge of the soft drink company's planning, evaluation and execution of media, both nationally and locally, since February 1983.
The oldest soft drink on the market today, Dr Pepper was first introduced 101 years ago in a drug store in Waco, Texas. The soda was different and some believed it was to be used for medicinal purposes.
Dr Pepper's rating has fluctuated over the years from being the No. 4 soft drink to the No. 1 and back to the No. 4, as it stands now behind Coke, Pepsi and Diet Coke.
Because of its "originality" and taste, Dr Pepper had to create a positive image to overcome any negative elements associated with the soft drink.
For more than 30 years, Dr Pepper has worked with a smaller advertising budget than other soft drink leaders in the industry, Smith said. Nevertheless, advertising campaigns were executed in a manner to make people remember and to also appeal to the consumer as lifestyles changed.
Advertising for soft drinks in the 1960s and 1970s, namely Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, were so similar that the soundtrack for Pepsi could be played behind the pictures of a television commercial made for Coke and sync perfectly.
In the recent years of the soft drink wars, those commercials have become more innovative, with characteristics all their own and celebrities used to carry out the image.
Today's soft drink industry is a $30 billion business, from which $15 billion is generated from grocery store sales, Smith said. The grocery store volume is 19 times larger than the sales of dry cake mixes, six times larger than paper towels and 10 times higher than fruit-flavored drinks.
Ad expenditures in the soft drink industry are reaching $600 million a year - and $750 million is being spent on promotions.
"That is over $1 billion against advertising of all products," he noted.
Smith did not disclose the sales or media budget of the private company.
In competing against the cola giants, Dr Pepper does not operate with its own bottling and distribution network. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court determined Dr Pepper was not a cola, so the product could be distributed by Coke and Pepsi bottlers. By 1969, it was the No. 6 brand of soft drink by virtue of its national distribution network, Smith said.
"Dr Pepper moved out of the ordinary situation and is a testimony to how powerful advertising can be, when each element works toward the same objective," Smith said.
As the Dr Pepper company began to focus on discovering the image of the soft drink, Smith said they found "Dr" suggested it was a soft drink with medicinal purposes. Millions had no desire to find out what it was.
To change that image and encourage people to try it, Dr Pepper could have shown people gulping Dr Pepper down by the gallons.
"But to do that," he noted, "they would soon become part of the run-of-the-mill ads showing marching bands in football fields, beach balls and hordes of young people holding hands in supermarkets."
Instead, Dr Pepper embarked on a campaign dubbing the brand "America's most misunderstood soft drink." In the first advertisements, a young couple sat on a porch swing as the boy attempted to persuade the girl to try something. About the time the viewer believes that something is sex, she pulls out a Dr Pepper, tries it and likes it.
In another commercial, a Dr Pepper distribution warehouse supervisor acts like a squadron leader or football coach, giving a pep talk on the loading dock to the truck drivers. The speech revolved around Dr Pepper's unique taste.
The first commercials captured the essence of the product, Smith said. Teenagers could identify with being misunderstood.
"Nothing was sacred as we pursued the goal to make advertising different," Smith said. "Millions did try Dr Pepper and did like it."
From 1960 to 1974, sales increased over 100 percent. Dr Pepper gained a 2.5 percent share of the market and passed RC Cola and Diet Rite to rank fourth in the market.
"Dr Pepper was a brand that stood on its own two feet," Smith said. "The negatives were still there, but they were turning into positives."
Originality became the theme of advertisements beginning in 1975. Broadway musicials were used in outrageous commercials showing, for example, executives in a board meeting dancing on the table. Although the scenes were not typical, excitement was plentiful.
The jingle adopted during that period was focused on telling what Dr Pepper was not, but also getting the message across that the soft drink was original.
"It's not a cola, it's something much much more. It's not a root beer. There are root beers by the score. Drink Dr Pepper, the joy of every boy and girl. It's the most original soft drink ever in the whole wide world."
The television commercials were filled with laughter, vitality, were larger than life and true to the heritage of Dr Pepper, Smith said.
By 1978, case sales for Dr Pepper had increased 39 percent, compared to the industry average of 16 percent. It was closing in on the No. 3 brand - 7-Up, the Uncola.
Since the company had spent three years telling consumers what Dr Pepper was not, it changed from the Broadway musical approach to tell them what it was in a real, typical, everyday environment. They used a simple concept - "Be a Pepper. Drink Dr Pepper."
Peppers were portrayed as people who were self confident, bold and who stood up to be counted. They ate, drank and wore what was popular.
"It put Dr Pepper in the mainstream," Smith said.
The soft drink was no longer misunderstood. The campaign succeeded well enough to add suprise peppers, like actor Mickey Rooney and cartoon character Fred Flintsone, to the commericals. The words to the jingle "I'm a Pepper. She's a Pepper. We're a Pepper. He's a Pepper. Wouldn't ya like to be a Pepper, too?" were even taken away in later commercials, with only the tune whistled. The lyrics were so simple, they were easy to remember and identify.
Dr Pepper was confident everyone at home watching the commercials were either singing along, whistling or at least thinking of the words.
Aside from advertising, Dr Pepper caught some limelight in television programs and movies.
"Millions paid fo the right to advertise for us," Smith said. "Dr Pepper increased its share from 4 percent to 8 percent of soft drink sales."
By 1982, a survey of 5,000 consumers placed Dr Pepper ahead of every soft drink and only second to Miller Lite in the beverage market. Dr Pepper's media budget was still only a fraction of the size of others in the industry, Smith said.
But in late 1982, economic conditions took a gulp from Dr Pepper revenues. Sales began to plateau and the growth rate was no longer ahead of the industry.
The advertising was re-examined and the outcome was a focus on the product and taste within the broad context of the Dr Pepper personality.
By 1983, Dr Pepper sales moved off the plateau but in the wrong direction, Smith said. With its market share eroding and sales declining, Dr Pepper slipped from third to fourth in the soft drink market behind 7-Up.
Advertising had drifted away from the primary strength of Dr Pepper's heritage, he explained. In reflecting the personality of the consumer, the commercials began drifting too close to becoming mainstream.
In the meantime, Smith noted, the youth market was shrinking and new products were being introduced in the new health conscious society - free of caffeine and free of sugar.
The real strategy for Dr Pepper was keeping up with the changes, identifying the personality that everyone wanted to become, he said. Last month, for example, Dr Pepper reintroduced its diet formula with 100 percent nutrasweet, rather than the blend of nutrasweet and other sweetners used in the past.
Oklahoma City is the first of five pilot markets in the U.S. to introduce Diet Dr Pepper. The advertising targets young, energetic, health conscious consumers.
In its earlier approaches, Dr Pepper executives recognized the drink was molded into a distinct personality, characterized as spirited, independent, and lovable, but not universally loved.
"We accepted that Dr Pepper was not a product for every single person," Smith said. "The personality was on sight with the growing population."
The message was unique, original and unconventional for those who resisted phony plastic prototypes, he said.
If personified, Dr pepper portrayed the unlikely hero - the person who knows who he is and is willing to hold out for the exception. At that point, Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, was introduced in television commercials as unsatisfied with everything put in front of him until a beautiful girl finally understands and gives him a Dr Pepper.
The result worked, Smith said. Dr Pepper sales again began to climb. Case sales increased 6 percent.
In 1985, Dr Pepper introduced the space cowboy who walked into a bar and ordered "the unusual."
"We also used a 3,000 year old lizard that went on a rampage through Tokyo," Smith said.
That year, Dr Pepper had record sales and became the nation's No. 1 soft drink.
The same hero, the space cowboy is seen again this year with a sidekick and Godzilla meets a female lizard concerned with her weight.
The new advertisements are still true to the philosophy of being different - a philosophy that has been successful for the past 10 years.…