Most Americans over 40 can probably recall a commercial jingle from the late 1970s that told them, “Be a Pepper, drink Dr Pepper.”
The maker of Dr Pepper is turning again to music to help sell soda, but in a way that shows how both music and advertising have changed in a generation.
Dr Pepper is paying an undisclosed amount to have a pop-punk band live and work in a transparent bubble on New York’s touristy Pier 54 for 20 days. Cameras will record the members of Cartel as they write and record a new CD.
The bubble will be loaded with cameras so fans can watch the band online around the clock. Plans also call for MTV to produce four half-hour shows, although network officials wouldn’t be pinned down on which of its channels will air the episodes.
The idea for the promotion started at one of Dr Pepper’s advertising agencies, Mediaedge:cia. The agency folks knew people at MTV, and soon Dr Pepper executives were going over a list of up-and-coming bands.
“The idea of watching the band make music — the trials and tribulations and personal challenges that come along with that — was really appealing to us,” said Tim Rosta, a marketing vice president at MTV.
Plus, he added, Dr Pepper wanted MTV to make the show rather than handing the network a finished product that might not look like MTV programming.
Executives at Dr Pepper were excited about a reality show approach.
“Anyone can sponsor a concert tour,” said Andrew Springate, a marketing vice president for the U.S. beverages unit of Britain-based Cadbury Schweppes PLC, which owns Dr Pepper. “We wanted to help consumers get access to how an album gets put together.”
Besides, he added, MTV attracts young viewers, and young people drink lots of soda.
The Dr Pepper name figures to be prominent inside the bubble, but Springate insists the company won’t have any voice in the band’s work.
“We’re not going to ask the band to create a Dr Pepper song,” he said.
Cartel is an Atlanta-based quintet whose guitarist is appropriately named Joseph Pepper. The group enjoyed modest success with a single “Honestly,” the video of which made the rotation at MTV, MTV2 and Fuse.
Executives at Viacom Inc.’s MTV said plans call for the network to air an episode May 24, when the band goes into the 2,200-square foot bubble on Pier 54, another when it emerges June 12, and two more in between.
Advertising experts say the Dr Pepper promotion shows how far brands are willing to go to grab attention in a media-saturated world. They are paying to have products mentioned or displayed in popular TV shows, movies, and even books.
The trick is to do it effortlessly. Viewers are turned off if the program looks like an infomercial, said David Freeman, managing director of the advertising practice at public relations firm Edelman.
“And whatever you put on the air has to be entertaining first,” he said.
Freeman praised Ford Motor Co.’s product placements in a premiere of the Fox TV show “24,” which aired without commercial breaks — always a plus with viewers. But most attempts are failures, he said.
Product placement goes back at least to 1982 and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” said Daniel J. Howard, chairman of the marketing department at Southern Methodist University’s business school. The movie’s title character was an alien that devoured Reese’s Pieces.
Short of turning off the set, viewers in the ’70s couldn’t skip over that spot of a clean-cut guy dancing and singing his way through “Be a Pepper.” They can now.
“We’re bombarded with commercials. People blow them off. They skip them on TiVo,” Howard said. “You won’t be able to filter this out.”