In 1885, a pharmacist named Charles Alderton was experimenting with several fruit-based flavors at the soda fountain and came up with a new drink. He tried it out on his boss, Wade Morrison, owner of Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. They both liked it. So did the store’s patrons. According to legend, it was Morrison that named the drink after his former boss, Dr. Charles Pepper.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream cones, and Dr Pepper were some of the breakthrough products introduced to almost 20 million people attending the 1904 World’s Fair Exposition in St. Louis.
For more than 100 years, the quirky Dr Pepper name has helped differentiate the soft drink from Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola (introduced in the 1890s). The missing period at the end of “Dr” is part of the brand’s quirkiness. It’s no mistake – the dot was intentionally deleted in 1950 to improve legibility on the small bottles used at that time, and it has been MIA ever since.
Dr Pepper’s history is as colorful as its origin. Coca-Cola attempted unsuccessfully to buy the brand in the 1980s, and instead, Dr Pepper merged with Seven Up. In 1995, Coca-Cola again tried to merge with Dr Pepper but was blocked from doing so. Later, Dr. Pepper was purchased by Cadbury, and then spun off last year. Today, Dr Pepper is part of “Dr Pepper Snapple Group,” which markets carbonated beverage brands including Dr Pepper, 7UP, A&W, Canada Dry, and Schweppes. Ironically, Coca-Cola managed to acquire trademark rights to the Dr Pepper name in several countries, so the brands are actually strange bedfellows.
Dr Pepper’s promotional path has been colorful and varied, too, according to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. In the 20s and 30s, a doctor character with a top hat and monocle was associated with Dr Pepper’s advertising. Then the soft drink adopted the slogan “Drink a Bite to Eat at 10, 2 and 4,” which referred to times of the day when energy might be lagging. This remained into the 50s.
In the 60s, the Dr Pepper slogan, “the Friendly Pepper-Upper,” was likely to be heard on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” television show. Later that decade, the drink was termed “America’s Most Misunderstood Soft Drink.” In 1977, the celebrated “Be a Pepper” campaign was launched. The most enduring promotional theme, “Just What the Dr Ordered,” lasted from 1987 until 1998. In recent years, Dr Pepper has promoted the fact that it has “23 flavors.”
In July 2008, Dr Pepper launched its most aggressive promotional campaign yet. Television ads currently running under the theme, “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor,” feature “pop culture’s biggest doctors,” says the company, “to educate America on an even better way to drink Dr Pepper: slowly.” To date, basketball legend Julius Erving (Dr. J), actor Kelsey Grammer (television character Dr. Frasier Crane), rock star from Kiss, Gene Simmons (“Dr. Love”) and hip-hop producer Dr. Dre have appeared in Dr Pepper commercials. The first release of some music from Dr. Dre’s album, “Detox,” was heard in the Dr. Dre ad.
Dr Pepper has made good use of product placements in such films as Forrest Gump, Spider Man, and 8 Mile. The brand targets young people through major giveaway promotions. Currently, for example, Dr Pepper is running a football-themed “tuition give-a-way” promotion that includes entering product codes and gaming tournaments with the opportunity to win over US$ 1 million. In addition, the “Coaches’ Trophy,” sponsored by Dr Pepper, will be presented to the winner of the 2010 Citi BCS National Championship Game. On the interactive side, Dr Pepper sponsors a mock social site called weExist, “the social network for the unbelievable.” Very quirky.
Quirky must be good. Somehow, the Dr Pepper brand not only survives but seems to thrive, despite a sputtering economy. BusinessWeek reports that sales of Dr Pepper “are bucking the industry trend, rising almost 3% in the first half of this year while overall soda consumption dropped by that much, according to Beverage Digest.” According to BusinessWeek, Dr Pepper recently gained a fountain spigot at 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the US.
Dr Pepper has stayed fresh with line extensions, not unlike other soft drinks. In addition to the original flavor, Dr Pepper now comes in Diet, Caffeine Free, Diet Caffeine Free, Cherry, Diet Cherry, Cherry Vanilla, and Diet Cherry Vanilla varieties.
Even in a new-fangled world, this old-time soft drink has found a way to compete successfully against formidable opponents. Dr Pepper is the kind of brand that makes you feel good.