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What went wrong with 7 Up

June 30, 2023

7 up. A case study in brand failure

The 7 Up brand has all but disappeared. Some insights as to what went wrong with 7 Up and why.

7 Up

7 Up logoThe primary directive behind building any brand is to be single-minded. You can’t be everything to everybody and 7 up was originally all about that.

You must put a stake in the ground and, with authority, say, “This is who we are.” It’s something that 7 Up once knew but forgot.

There are many benefits to this approach. For one, your brand message becomes apparent to those you try to reach.

Also, even though it may be a universal brand message, it tells a prospect that being a part of your brand is a member of an exclusive club. It tells prospects that they are special.

It also gives your company guidance. If you are about “simplicity,” let’s say everything you do – including the messages and advertising you deliver – reflects simplicity.

The great divide with 7 Up

With that knowledge, we look at what went wrong with 7 Up. Owned today by the Keurig Dr. Pepper Group (KDP), it was once only behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi in market share. It was the Uncola, with ads featuring Jeffrey Holder.

That was in the late 60s and early 70s. Since then, under the 7 Up brand, there have been 16 versions of it, from “7 Upside Down” (yes, the logo was upside down) to Cherry 7 Up, which was the subject of a lawsuit because the brand claimed it was an antioxidant.

Even stranger, since its market share started plummeting about a decade ago, it has had so many different timelines and different ad campaigns in an attempt to stall its market share fall that the brand has essentially become meaningless.
Simply put, 7 Up couldn’t decide who it was and who it was for. It went from a soda giant to an afterthought.

Market forces have affected 7 Up, but its lack of brand meaning is doing it in.

In 1972, 7 Up reached its pinnacle. The Uncola brand and the famous advertising campaign were in full swing. It was the third best-selling soda brand in the US, and the brand could leverage the Uncola brand across many messages.

The fall of 7 Up

The advertising spouted that it had no caffeine, with Holder saying, “Never had it. Never will.” Everything was cool. 7 Up was cool.

7 Up from a rebranding companyThe Uncola brand was positioned against the rest of the market, offering a genuine choice.

Then something happened. Advertising campaigns changed constantly. Its market share fell off. Diet colas entered the market and began taking over.

There has been a noticeable shift in consumer preferences toward diet soft drinks in recent years, leading to their growing popularity and widespread consumption.

Attribute this to various factors, including health concerns, changing dietary habits, and increased awareness about the harmful effects of excessive sugar consumption. This part of the article will explore why diet soft drinks have replaced sugary soft drinks in many people’s beverage choices.

One of the primary drivers behind the shift towards diet soft drinks is the increasing concern about health and wellness. With the rising prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases, people are becoming more conscious of their sugar intake.

Traditional sugary soft drinks are often laden with high amounts of added sugars, which can contribute to weight gain and other health issues. Diet soft drinks, on the other hand, offer a sugar-free or low-sugar alternative that allows consumers to enjoy the refreshing taste without the guilt and negative health consequences.

Furthermore, the growing awareness of the detrimental effects of excessive sugar consumption has prompted many individuals to seek healthier beverage options.

There are links to sugary soft drinks, such as risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and dental problems.

As people become more educated about the risks associated with high sugar intake, they are more likely to opt for diet soft drinks as a healthier alternative.

The availability of diet versions of popular soft drink brands has made it easier for consumers to make this transition without compromising on taste.

Another contributing factor to the rise of diet soft drinks is consumers’ changing dietary habits and preferences. People adopt healthier lifestyles and often seek beverages that align with their nutritional goals.

Diet soft drinks, with their reduced or zero sugar content, appeal to those looking to reduce their overall calorie intake or follow specific dietary plans, such as low-carb or ketogenic diets. The versatility of diet soft drinks in accommodating different dietary needs has played a significant role in their increasing popularity.

Moreover, the advancements in artificial sweeteners and flavoring agents have significantly improved diet soft drinks’ taste and overall experience and were criticized in the past for their aftertaste and lack of appeal compared to their sugary counterparts.

However, the development of new sweeteners, such as sucralose, stevia, and erythritol, has significantly enhanced the taste profiles of diet soft drinks, making them more palatable and enjoyable for consumers.

Beverage companies’ marketing and advertising efforts have also played a vital role in the shift toward diet soft drinks.

These companies have recognized the growing demand for healthier alternatives and have invested in promoting their diet beverage offerings.

Through strategic campaigns highlighting the benefits of reduced sugar intake and the refreshing taste of diet soft drinks, they have successfully captured the attention and loyalty of health-conscious consumers.

7 Up had its diet version, like the other soda brands.

Market share continued to slip to 2.3% market share 2022. (By comparison, Sprite holds a 6.2% share). 7 Up is irrelevant.

That’s especially alarming when most of the soda market targets younger audiences, meaning many of the largest soft drink buyers haven’t even heard of it.

What happened?

There are so many reasons often given for why soda has fallen so hard that it’s becoming the soda equivalent of Blockbuster.

Let’s list the most common theories, only to realize that, while they all may or may not have contributed, none of them address the real issue: Who is the 7 Up user?

More competition

7 Up is no longer the only cola of its ilk in the market. When it was king, it was the only soda that wasn’t a “dark” soda that mattered. Today, you have Sierra Mist, Sprite, and the real comer, Mountain Dew.

7 Up is squeezed in a competitive market.
7 Up vs Mountain dewMountain Dew is the fourth most-popular soda in America, a relatively recent phenomenon considering it’s been around since the 40s (when its name was a reference to moonshine).

But Mountain Dew did something right during 7 Up’s fall.

It decided who it was for. Mountain Dew had a grassroots campaign akin to what Pabst Blue Ribbon has become to hipsters. In that case, the hipster decided that drinking the comically worst beer on the market made him cool.

In the case of Mountain Dew, a legend grew from teen males that the Dew was caffeine-addled “rocket fuel,” prompting PepsiCo (which owns Mountain Dew) to feature that demographic skateboarding, partying, and playing video games in ads.

Naturally, Mountain Dew has become one of the dominant sponsors of the X Games.
In some ways, you can spot Mountain Dew as the anti-7 Up.

While the brand has bragged about a mild, anti-caffeine, even Caribbean feel (during the Holder days), Mountain Dew is the exact opposite. By firmly deciding who it is for, Mountain Dew blew past 7 Up. It now has more than 7% percent of the soda market share, more than seven times that of 7 Up.

Other factors

There are other competitive factors. Energy drinks have been rising in volume by double digits recently, with ready-to-drink coffee, bottled water, and ready-to-drink tea also rising. Carbonated soft drinks are dropping. The only segment of the beverage industry doing worse is fruit beverages.

7 Up was not able to crack the diet market.

This one is interesting. Diet colas started emerging when Diet Coke premiered in 1983, and the boom took off. It started a trend in which nearly every soda brand had a light version, a response to concerns over the amount of sugar and calories in traditional soft drinks.

In the last six years, diet brands have continued to move up. Diet Coke rose from third place to second (behind its Classic brand.) Diet Pepsi and Diet Mountain Dew, and Diet Dr. Pepper are also in the top 10.

It was early in the movement when Sugar-Free 7 Up debuted in 1973 and then renamed Diet 7 Up in 1979.

So why didn’t they take hold of the market?

Some say the problems were twofold.

For one, 7 Up kept changing its formula, using aspartame, switching to Splenda as a sweetener, then back to aspartame. Drinkers couldn’t keep up with the changing taste.

Also, it was already marketing itself as a “healthy” soda choice. It didn’t include caffeine (in what was becoming a more caffeinated world) and was already positioned as the Uncola with its clear color.

Did a strength become a weakness? It seems like a stretch, but the thinking goes that people thought 7 Up was already diet and light; what did it need a light version for?
But for that to have been the cause, the fall of 7 Up would have to have happened much earlier.

It’s worth noting that its diet brands fare as badly as the leading 7-Up soda.

Something happened to the brand.

What is the problem, and how to fix it?

7 Up Products

The problem isn’t just the market forces, and it’s not the taste that went out of fashion, either. If you blindfold yourself, you’ll recognize how similar the taste is between 7 Up and…Coke. (We’ve done taste tests with large groups to prove it. The similarity is sugar.)

What happened is that once Uncola ran its course (and it lasted into the early 90s in some markets), 7 Up and its sub-brands ran with a variety of positions, such as:
“Now that’s refreshing.”
“It’s cool, to be clear.”
“6 Up was not enough. We went one louder.”
“Make 7 Up yours.”
“Are you an Un?”
“Seven flavors in one drink”
“Ridiculously Bubbly”
“Mix It Up A Little” is probably top of mind for most of us.

A newer campaign has a strategy – use 7 Up in many things – but it still won’t create preference.

Can 7 Up come back?

Absolutely. Unlike other failing brands, such as something like Radio Shack, there is equity in the brand.

When it was Uncola, it was positioned against the rest of the market.

And it suggested that its drinkers were not ordinary.7 Up, without using the Uncola position because it would seem retro (and, therefore, trendy), needs to rebrand itself so that its drinkers see themselves as different from the pack that drinks Coke, Pepsi, and the rest (including energy drinks, which are taking market share from sodas).

The soda brand must look different and have a very different tone from what other sodas advertise today.

Through quantitative research, 7 Up needs to find the emotional triggers driving consumers’ choice of soft drinks.

Once those triggers are found, 7 Up must claim and define them as who its drinkers are and why that makes them different.

The Uncola isn’t dead. Bring back its spirit in a new form.

What one wrong with 7 Up