Ad Report Card: 7 UP's new guy.

Commentary about business and finance.
March 4 2002 11:49 AM

Ad Report Card: 7 UP's New Guy

The 7 UP unspokesman who I wrote about a while back has recently been replaced. The old guy was Orlando Jones, a comedic actor. The new guy is identified by 7 UP simply as Godfrey. He's a comedian, too, and like Jones he interprets the role of the unspokesman as "well intentioned, yet clueless." There's something else similar about them, too. What is it? Hmmm. Oh, now I know. Normally I don't notice this sort of thing, but as it happens, they're both black. Anyway, to see the spot in which the new guy introduces himself, go here and click the small picture with "Watch Now!" underneath.

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The ad: "Hi," says the new 7 UP guy, "I'm the new 7 UP guy." He's walking briskly along a crowded city sidewalk, and as he chats, he absently shoves his open can of the lemony lime beverage into the hands of a passer-by. "The old 7 UP guy did such a good job, he got promoted." He peels off his green sweater, and his tie, in each case forcing them into the hands of other pedestrians without really looking at them. "Before he left, he taught me everything he knew. And the first thing he said to do? Get out there and expose yourself to the public." By now he's taking off his shirt, and stopping at a corner as people pause and watch him. "Excuse me!" he yells at the crowd, which I'm sure most of you are too enlightened to notice is mostly white. Then he drops his pants. He has on 7 UP boxers. He looks over his shoulder at the camera "OK, it's a little embarrassing, but anything for 7 UP!" Our view of him is from behind, from the shoulders up. Nevertheless, it's pretty obvious that his next move is to drop the drawers. "Whoa!" somebody shouts, and there's the sound of a car smacking into something, as we cut away to a shot of a 7 UP can. We return to 7 UP guy, in the same spot, still shot from the shoulders up only, as he says, "I'm making a big impression already!"

Old and new: This self-consciously dopey bit of slapstick is exactly the sort of thing that the previous 7 UP guy would have done—and, in fact, one of those spots turned on a nudity joke. Which raises a question. The point of this ad is to draw attention to 7 UP's new unspokesman. And the point of the new unspokesman, apparently, is that he's just like the old one. Doesn't that seem odd? Why make a fuss about a new arrival whose function seems to be making the transition from new guy to old guy as unfussy as possible?

Oh, and I almost forgot: the black thing. Does it speak poorly of me that I even mention that Godfrey and Jones are both African-American? I'm sure the 7 UP marketing team simply had an open call for comic actors and selected a new pitchman who just happened to be black. (After all, I seem to remember Poppy Bush insisting that Clarence Thomas' race had nothing whatsoever to do with his appointment to the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Thurgood Marshall; he probably hadn't even noticed Thomas was black until the pesky media pointed it out.) It's not like somebody at 7 UP would have just said, "Orlando's doing movies now, so get another funny black guy, no one will notice." I mean, we practically live in a color-blind society these days, right?

But really, I wonder about the conversation—and there must have been a conversation. My favorite imagined scenario is that the 7 Uppers decide to take a stand, believing that, by God, America needs at least one prominent soft drink spokesman of color. Wouldn't it have been a betrayal of all Jones had achieved to sign up, I don't know, Carrot Top as his replacement? And what more progressive way to introduce Godfrey than by having him—just as Jones did in a prior ad—stand naked before a crowd of gaping white people? That's true enlightenment, soda fans, and more powerful evidence for the sophisticated thinking in ad-land.

Rob Walker is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Design Observer and the author of Buying In.

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