Bad enough that PepsiCo in the past couple of years has dominated the 15-year-old-boy market with caffeine-laden Mountain Dew and its testosterone-laden advertising. Worse still that PepsiCo has introduced Mountain Dew Code Red, and sold a billion-some cans of it. But here's the real sick part: research suggests that Sprite has also been hit hard by the growth in bottled water.
If Sprite swillers are turning to water, let Doritos beware. Broccoli will soon be making its move. Whoa, dude! Crudites! Kickin'!
Anyway, forces seem to be converging against poor Sprite, the erstwhile "adult soft drink" long since evolved into "just another teen-ager soft drink." The principal casualty is Lowe & Partners, New York, and it's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign. That parody-intensive series of spots dating to 1994 was credited for helping to fuel Sprite's rapid `90s growth, supposedly by impressing the cynical, media-savvy teen with the veneer of anti-advertising that dressed up the advertising.
"Obey Your Thirst" nominally survives under the new agency, Ogilvy & Mather, New York, but these ads hinge on a sub-theme: "What's your thirst?" Suddenly, too, all signs of post-modernity are long gone. The two new spots are just plain advertising, aimed straight at the same demographic-which we are to assume has miraculously shed its cynicism in the space of eight years and is now a complete sucker for hero worship.
One spot features Rikkia Mills, a Bronx drag racer with her own racing team. "What's my thirst?" she offers. "Speed." The other commercial focuses on Mike Lopez, who turned a barrio subculture into a business.
"We're artists," he says to begin the spot, showing young men aboard funky, ostentatiously outfitted bicycles-two-wheel versions of the low-slung, chrome-wheel cars/ornaments that chug around the L.A. neighborhoods. "We build low-rider bikes. Some people don't get it. But that's okay."
"What's our thirst?" Mike poses. "Style."
Ah, the heroic iconoclasts approach-the default strategy for flagging brands. We've seen it from Levi's, Reebok, Dr Pepper, Stroh's, Saab and many more, usually with little success. These Sprite spots-especially the bike builder-happen to be slick and stylish, but they lack any ingredient for turning the brand back around. Let's be real here: the universe of 15-year-olds is no more especially wide-eyed now than it was especially jaded in 1994.
Better to find something intrinsic in the brand to give it the cachet it seems to have lost. They could start with the logo and packaging treatment, which are dorky in the extreme. Sprite is not Coke, whose quaint logotype is inseparable from the brand itself. Sprite tradition is not merely beside the point; it is antithetical to the steeped-in-the-now sensibilities of its target audience. The new campaign seems to recognize this fact by using a hiply crude font for the brand name.
The actual product, however, continues to reside in Dorkville. The wussy name can't be changed, but the bottle and can can. Green background. Black label. Cooler font.
No wonder some of these kids are turning to water. At least they don't look like Sprite nerds drinking it.