Dr Pepper Advertising Success Built on Being Different
Carter, Kim, THE JOURNAL RECORD
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. …