Public can 'Say Something' in soda ad campaign Virgin Cola lets about 50 take turns on soapbox

Marketing

September 02, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Joseph Skelton rode his bike 10 miles to get to the Inner Harbor yesterday for a shot at 30 seconds of national fame.

Along with about 50 other people, Skelton took a turn standing atop a red soapbox at Harborplace near McKeldin Fountain. Each person got to talk about a subject of his or her choosing for 15 to 30 seconds for a national advertising campaign for soft-drink newcomer Virgin Cola.

At least one will be picked for the national "Say Something" campaign with ads to air as early as year's end. For their trouble, participants received $1.

Skelton, 57, took his bicycle up on the soapbox with him, wearing his safety helmet, a khaki knapsack on his back and socks pulled up around his knees.

"Sucking plus blowing equals smoking," Skelton said into the camera. "Smokers stink."

Short and to the point. This from the retired truck driver from Rosedale who admits he was a two-pack-a-day Pall Mall smoker for 30 years, until he quit nearly 10 years ago.

It's all in the spirit of saying what you think.

"We know that we're pushing the envelope a little bit," said Jonathan Cutler, a spokesman for Virgin Cola in Los Angeles. "But we're just giving Americans the opportunity to speak their mind."

Most of those who stopped to audition just happened by, unlike Skelton, who had planned the visit for about a week, ever since he heard about it on the radio.

Those who took to the red Virgin Cola soapbox ranged in age from 7 to 91. They included engineers and bankers, cooks and the unemployed. Once on stage, they did everything from recite poetry to juggle. They talked politics, religion, family values, sports and love. They bemoaned lost pets and even offered fashion tips.

"I hate when I see people walking down the street in sandals with ugly toes," said Monica Butler, 18. "Now if you have ugly toes, must you wear sandals?"

Richard Branson, the business magnate who created Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways, is behind Virgin Cola and the brash campaign to take on the cola giants. The $15 million campaign will include about 30 spots. Most will star average Americans, but a few will feature personalities from the music and media world.

"They are striving to differentiate themselves from the traditional market leaders," said Marjorie Valin, a spokeswoman for the American Advertising Federation in Washington. "Everything they are doing with this campaign screams, 'We're different.' "

Virgin Cola made its debut in Britain in November 1994 before expanding to several other countries. The cola and its diet version are available in seven U.S. markets: Baltimore, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Washington, San Diego and Los Angeles.

The American soft-drink industry has annual revenue of $50 billion, with cola accounting for just under half that amount.

Pub Date: 9/02/98

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