As soda sales slump, 7UP tries bringing booze to the party

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Deutsch, Richards Group help the brand with a bold pivot in search of new customers.

A new campaign for 7UP features a rare ingredient absent from the ads of competing carbonated soft drinks: booze. The "Mix It UP a Little" campaign positions the soda as a convenient and ubiquitous ingredient, not just for mixed drinks, but in baked goods and marinades and party punches. The first TV spot from Deutsch debuted last week, along with digital videos from The Richards Group featuring rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot and 2015 Bartender of the Year, Ivy Mix.

It’s a sharp pivot for 7UP, but bold strategies are necessary these days in the competitive beverages space, especially among CSDs. Their high sugar content has made them unfashionable among parents and the health-conscious, and sales reflect that: Soft drink consumption dipped to a 30-year low in 2015 according to Beverage Digest. At the same time, they’re hampered by their previous successes. Soda consumption is so ubiquitous that there’s very little market left to grow into. About 15 million Americans have had 7UP sometime in the last week.

Traditionally, CSDs try to steal customers from other brands. (Think the Pepsi Challenge.) But 7UP’s new strategy is an attempt to expand the number of opportunities to use the product in the first place. "We know consumers drink about the same amount of liquid in a given day that they always have," said Brad Rakes, senior manager for 7UP at Dr Pepper Snapple Group. "You're not necessarily replacing something else with a 7UP, you're adding a 7UP to it because it's that mixer that goes with everything."

"This is a positioning no brand in the category has taken, and it's a bold one," said Brett Craig, executive creative director at Deutsch, in a statement. The brief itself was simple: show all the different ways consumers can use 7UP.

Focus groups showed that "7UP fit really nicely in this occasion called social night—special occasions where people are at home, having a good time with their buddies or their significant other," said Rakes. "That is a more adult occasion, where consumers in that setting are having soft drinks, but they're also having alcohol and mixers and other things." And 7UP is one of the few brands that already has positive associations with cocktail culture; it’s called a 7 and 7, after all, not a Seagram’s and Sprite.

"Cocktails and mixed drinks are such a part of the brand's history," Rakes said, citing ads from the 1940s and ‘50s that featured 7UP as a mixer. "We accepted that it would be a part of the creative the agencies would present back to us."

But he stressed that the campaign is about more than alcohol. The explosion of platforms like Pinterest and short recipe videos on social media also informed the offerings. "Go Google ‘7UP pancakes,’ ‘7UP biscuits,’ ‘7UP cake,’" he said. "When you look at the creative, what you're going to see is a much broader strategy than cocktails."

Both of Deutsch’s TV spots are available online now, though the second "Granny" spot doesn’t air until April 24. The brand is also working on a partnership with Tastemade, a food-focused producer of shareable videos that is scheduled to debut on April or May.

Product packaging is also set to change, and will feature an as-yet-unnamed female celebrity chef who will begin to appear in point-of-sale activations in May or June.

The new work represents an abrupt departure from the brand’s most recent campaign, a tie-in with electronic dance music meant to appeal to younger customers, the typical target market for CSDs. "EDM was a really good platform, but it was also rooted in a very traditional segmentation methodology," Rakes said. "It's not about age-based demographic targeting anymore."