7UP ENLISTS BOTTLERS FOR AD SUPPORT: $41 MIL EFFORT BACKS TWEAKED SODA FLAVOR

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Dr Pepper/Seven Up is backing the launch of its reformulated 7UP with a healthy twist of support from its bottlers, who have agreed to contribute to the company's marketing budget for the first time in at least a decade.

Bottlers will provide 25% of the funds for an ambitious, estimated $41 million ad push in national media aimed at regaining share for the lemon-and-lime flavored soft drink, which has been showing new signs of life in recent months.

Unit sales of bottles and cans rose 1.5% in June and 2% in July compared to year-ago periods, according to company officials.

But the soft drink still trails Sprite, its fast-growing archrival from Coca-Cola Co. And it faces potential competition from a new Pepsi-Cola Co. product code-named Storm.

BOTTLERS' SUPPORT

Ralph Crowley, CEO of Polar Beverages, Worcester, Mass., and president of the 7UP Bottlers Association, said the marketing plan has his group's full support.

"It's a very significant change of strategy and the bottler board felt it was worthwhile," he said, adding that "nobody likes to go into their pockets deeper given the competitive pricing they face every day."

Looking to boost 7UP unit sales by 4% in 1998, the marketer, a division of Cadbury Schweppes, plans to double ad spending for the upcoming holiday season and for 1998's first quarter.

Overall spending for 1998 will be up 25%, said officials, who declined to release actual figures. Competitive Media Reporting pegged spending last year at about $33 million. The company has boosted spending by 14% from 1995 through this year, according to officials.

TRANSITION ADS IN NOVEMBER

Two transitional TV spots and a radio ad from Y&R Advertising, New York, themed "Refreshing moments," begin airing in November, building on 7UP's 2-year-old "It's an up thing," campaign. That theme may change or be eliminated as new ads are created for the second half of '98, executives said.

Three more new TV ads with an upbeat, humorous bent will launch a major marketing effort beginning Jan. 26. The push includes product sampling-under the caps of one out of every four 20-ounce bottles will be the offer for a free bottle. There's also a college basketball tie-in, with ESPN "SportsCenter's" Dan Patrick as spokesman.

The goal is to appeal to 18-to-24-year-olds without alienating the brand's older, loyal customers.

"7UP has been losing its differentiation and relevance with younger people," Kim Feil, senior VP-marketing for the company's Cadbury Beverages/7UP unit, told attendees at 7UP's annual bottlers convention held last week in San Antonio. The company unveiled its new plans, and the reformulated soft drink, at the convention.

The beverage-which officials took great pains not to call "new" to avoid comparisons with the ill-fated new Coke-has an enhanced lemon and lime flavor, but the carbonation and sweetness remain unchanged. Several bottlers at the convention said they didn't notice much of a taste difference.

NO LONGER THE 'UNCOLA'

The product, which hits stores Jan. 1, bears new labels with slices of lemon and lime added to the logo's red dot. After 20 years, the "Uncola" message is off the label in favor of a new phrase: "Crisp, clear, refreshing taste!"

"Sometimes your best asset can also be your limitation," Ms. Feil said of the Uncola tag. "Twenty years of claiming the Uncola also means that our younger consumers who grew up in the Uncola era do not recognize us enough as a lemon-lime beverage."

Gary Hemphill, VP of Beverage Marketing Corp., said the changes at 7UP "provide the brand with some much-needed news."

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