Axl Rose Wants Dr Pepper to Apologize for Giveaway Stunt

Says Marketer Bungled Free-Cola Offer and Violated Rocker's Rights

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NEW YORK ( -- That Axl Rose kept Guns N' Roses fans waiting 17 years for "Chinese Democracy" didn't seem to bother the corn-rowed rocker all that much. But when Dr Pepper was unable to deliver a free can of soda to everyone in the country upon the album's release, that was more than Axl and his lawyers could stand.

Letter to Dr. Pepper
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Axl Rose's lawyer has fired off a letter to Dr Pepper. Click on the image to read the missive.
Last week the singer's lawyer pounced on the soft-drink marketer, claiming it failed to deliver on its promise to give out the free sodas, turning what began as a great public-relations stunt into a public-relations mess for Dr Pepper. Ketchum is Dr Pepper's PR agency of record.

Lawyer fires off letter
Alan Gutman, the lawyer representing Axl and Guns N' Roses, sent a scolding letter (which cited Advertising Age's coverage of the campaign), to Larry Young, president-CEO of the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. The letter stated that Dr Pepper's campaign had exploited the singer's reputation and the "eagerly awaited" album, and stated that payment would be sought for the unauthorized use of the Guns N' Roses brand.

"In and of itself this campaign brazenly violated our clients' rights in numerous respects," the letter read. "Unfortunately, Dr Pepper has now magnified the damage this campaign has caused through its appalling failure to make good on a promise it made to the American public."

"In this age for Dr Pepper to try to associate themselves with a band with no contract or agreement is not just bad communications, it's bad business," said Robbie Vorhaus, a crisis-management consultant. "The right thing to do is to say 'We were wrong, we were sorry and this is how we are going to make good.'"

And in a manner of speaking that is what Mr. Rose and his band are demanding it do. The letter from his attorney "insists" that Dr Pepper run a full-page apology in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, as well as extend a redemption window for its free-soda offer.

Back in March, Mr. Rose seemed just fine with the arrangement, noting on the band's website, "We are surprised and very happy to have the support of Dr Pepper with our album 'Chinese Democracy.'"

Dr Pepper's plan was to distribute the sodas through a coupon strategy in which consumers had to register at the brand's website for a coupon that would be available for only 24 hours beginning after midnight on Nov. 23. The coupon could be redeemed at any retailer that sells Dr Pepper. But, according to reports, the beverage company's website servers crashed due to the high number of people seeking coupons. Dr Pepper extended the offer for one more day but some consumers said they were still unable to claim their free soda through the site or a toll-free number.

Dr Pepper responds
In a statement sent to Ad Age, Dr Pepper said, "For us, this was a fun giveaway that has always been about the fans, and we've taken great steps to fulfill it, including: extending the window for the giveaway from 24 to 42 hours; adding a toll-free line to handle consumer requests for the coupons; and setting up an interactive voice recorder to accept coupon requests. This was one of the largest responses we have ever received for a giveaway, and we're happy we were able to satisfy the thirst of so many Dr Pepper fans."

Ted Wright, managing partner at Fizz, a word-of-mouth marketing agency that specializes in the beverage and entertainment industry, said he has been monitoring the near daily conversations about Guns N' Roses and Dr Pepper that are taking place among the agency's Fizz Corps, a network of nearly 62,000 people.

"Here is the real problem with this," he said. "Once it came time to pay up, they put together a three-hurdle process by which you had to redeem your can of soda. It's like walking into a bar and saying 'Drinks on me' and then realizing there are 50 people in the bar and not five, and then saying 'You can only get a beer if you speak Portuguese.'"

Not in the proper spirit
Mr. Wright, who said he felt Dr Pepper was the only brand that could do a promotion like this and stay within its persona, believes the company's coupon solution was not in the same spirit as the original offer. That led to conflicts with consumer expectations.
Axl Rose
Axl Rose Credit: WireImage

Based on the conversations he and his staff saw, what angered most consumers was the awful execution, specifically the crashed server. Mr. Wright said it took him 26 attempts to successfully get onto the site.

"This is a word-of-mouth marketing problem, and they could solve it by going to their consumers and saying 'This wasn't the best thing to do,'" Mr. Wright said. "'And we're sorry that Axl is grumpy about this, and we are going to do something for everybody.' Nobody is really mad about an 89-cent [soda]. They just wanted to be part of the fun, and they took all of the fun out of it."

Neither Dr Pepper nor Mr. Rose's lawyer responded to specific questions about whether the demands outlined in the letter were being addressed.
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