Would You Like to Be a Pepper Too, Axl Rose?

How True Fans at Cadbury Schweppes Decided to Prod a Wayward Rocker Back Into the Studio

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- About a month ago, two executives at Cadbury Schweppes were playing "Guitar Hero III" at work and began pondering how cool it would be if Axl Rose finally got off his ass and released Guns N' Roses' long-awaited, 14-years-in-the-making album "Chinese Democracy."
Greg Artkop and Sean Gleason had a eureka moment playing 'Guitar Hero III.'
Greg Artkop and Sean Gleason had a eureka moment playing 'Guitar Hero III.'

"It would be great if 'Chinese Democracy' came out," Sean Gleason, senior VP of the brand action team at Cadbury Schweppes, told his gaming partner, Greg Artkop, Cadbury's director of corporate communications, who told Mr. Gleason he could find some tracks online. But that wasn't good enough. Mr. Gleason wanted the whole album, and that's when the light went on and he had the idea of trying to coax Axl into finally finishing it.

"We thought we actually could do something about it, and we talked to some folks and said, Why don't we see if we could goad him into releasing the album by getting more and more people demanding it?" he said.

Giving to get
So they decided issue a challenge to Axl, promising to give everyone in the country (except for Slash and Buckethead, the two former Guns guitarists Axl can't stand) a free Dr Pepper if he released the album before the end of 2008.

What happened next will probably serve as a case study for how a well-placed press release can drum up tons of media coverage. Several media outlets ran with the press release, and music blogs, websites and news outlets across the globe revved up the buzz. Axl even responded and later said the album would be done before the end of the year.

From MTV's "Band in a Bubble" and YouTube sensation Tay Zonday singing about Dr Pepper Cherry Chocolate Rain to Flavor Flav providing the voice for a singing Dr Pepper can in one of its newest spots, it seems everything Dr Pepper does lately is centered around music. The brand has a long musical history going back to the late '70s with the "I'm a Pepper, You're a Pepper" TV spots.

"When you look at music, there's so many different ways to use it," Mr. Gleason said. "It's a way to engage the consumer and create an immediate emotional connection."

Tapping into fandom
"We love music, and it's a part of what we do and feed off of it," Mr. Artkop said. "This thing with 'Chinese Democracy' was about what would Dr Pepper do to get this music out, because we believe that the world really needs more Guns N' Roses."
Guns N' Roses has fans at Cadbury Schweppes and its PR shop Ketchum.
Guns N' Roses has fans at Cadbury Schweppes and its PR shop Ketchum.

Chris Kooluris, head of disruptive media at Ketchum, the company's agency of record, said music is a universal connector.

"There's such a variety of music, but there are certain musical acts that are part of people's lives for decades," he said. "And to get on board with what those people are going through [like waiting for 'Chinese Democracy' to be released] in an authentic way through music makes it twice as powerful in connecting your brand to that community."

The other driving factor behind its music-based initiatives has been mixing it with the right amount of PR. Nick Ragone, director of client development at Ketchum, said music works because "we know those people are going to be passionate.

"Part of what we're doing is identifying enthusiast groups and reaching out to them on their terms, and we felt [the Dr Pepper challenge] was an opportunity to let people connect to the brand in a really meaningful way," Mr. Ragone continued.

Speaking their language
Mr. Kooluris, who helped pen the Dr Pepper/Axl release, said it was the nuances he added that made it legit for Guns N' Roses fans and may have prompted Axl to respond.

"I dropped in a bunch of nuances that I knew the fans would love and I knew that Axl would appreciate authentic support," he said. "It clearly wasn't written by someone who has stumbled upon 'Chinese Democracy' but somebody who is actually been waiting for it. There was enough sense of humor in it that it made fans appreciate us and it made Axl appreciate it -- he came out and thanked us for it -- and things like Slash and Buckethead not getting [a can] is something he will find funny because they have given him such heartache over the years."

And the Dr Pepper giveaway makes it a story for everybody, not just Axl fans.

"If the album comes out, that brings everybody into the story," Mr. Kooluris said. "Whether you think he's a loser or not, you might get a free soda if this guy delivers, so it incorporates 300 million people now even if they didn't want to be."
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