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Remember 7 Up Gold?
When you are a Lemon/Lime soda in a world dominated by colas, you need to take some chances. That is exactly what 7 Up did when they released 7 Up Gold in 1988. The unusual concoction wasn’t a cola, but it also wasn’t what people expected from 7 Up. So ultimately it didn’t find its place in the very competitive soda pop market. Let’s take a look back at the release and rapid fall of this unique beverage.
The failure that would be 7 Up Gold probably would not have happened if it wasn’t for a glowing success that is still with us today, Cherry 7 Up. This delicious concoction was released officially in 1987, but had existed for a long time before that as a common offering at soda fountains and as a variation on the Shirley Temple cocktail. The success of the product was electric pink, and in the first year it captured 1.7 percent of the soda market. It was billed as a variant on the original 7 Up brand, but its success emboldened the 7 Up company to take a bigger swing.
At around this same time, a dramatic change happened at 7 Up. They merged with Dr. Pepper. It was now a new company made from two storied American brands that just has a big success with a new product, and they wanted to keep the good times rolling. Instead of researching a new product or adding more flavors to 7 Up, they decided to try an unused recipe that had been cooked up over at Dr Pepper.
That’s where things get weird. Because despite bearing the 7 Up name, this soda pop was nothing like the Uncola. Instead, it was a hybrid fantasia flavor that was hard to pin down, like Mountain Dew or Dr Pepper. Most people who drank it while it was available described it as “spicy,” A combination of sweet cinnamon spice and ginger.
Having had it at the time, I can say that is an accurate description. My first thought when I had it was that it was ginger ale, but with a bit more complexity. Overall it had a smooth unique taste.
I wouldn’t call it incredibly drinkable. So not something I would get as a fountain soda, but certainly a nice standalone beverage. It’s unique flavor profile would have probably made a great mixer for cocktails. It was just a decent soda, certainly not ground-breaking or edgy as it would come to be portrayed in advertising.
The color wasn’t exactly gold or clear, instead it was a cola-like amber color with maybe just a tinge of red. It was an interesting choice and certainly made the product standout with its bold label.
The packaging was really nice. Red cans with white lettering accented with gold. They really popped, which is probably why empty cans of 7 Up Gold and associated ephemera are so collectible nowadays.
They used the term “gold,” not as a description of flavor or packaging, but instead because they thought it would make people think “premium.”
The red can was nice, but they also sold a Diet variation of the drink sweetened with aspartame. That can was equally striking with a white body with gold and red highlights.
This new 7 Up also had caffeine, which was a wild departure for a company that had spent millions on ads for a flagship product that bragged about never having caffeine.
7 Up was optimistic about 7 Up Gold and would spend over $10 million on a series of energetic commercials showing youthful people engaged in high-energy antics. This was in line with the companies stated attempt to appeal to males aged 18 to 34.
The product was rolled out in April 1988. The commercials started to hit the airwaves in May and would continue through the summer.
The most famous of these commercials is commonly known as the “Wild Thing” ad for its prominent use of The Troggs‘ legendary song. It also noted for its appearance of a pre-Tenacious D Kyle Gass as a Killer Pizza delivery guy.
This commercial, which is super-sized, is so odd. It features and glorifies Eighties Yuppie rebelliousness. Watch as two “cool guys” engage in country club consequence-free shenanigans that would work surprisingly well in our social media obsessed world.
It has been reported that they hoped to capture 1% of the market with their new product, which would have been about $266 million a year in revenue. So with ads rolling out in print, radio, and television, 7 Up Gold hit store shelves and 7 Up was expecting blockbuster sales.
Bright ‘n bold. Reach for the 7 Up Gold. The sassy new 7 Up with the unique taste.
Since you aren’t drinking a cold Gold while reading this, you probably know that it didn’t go well. Not only did it not go well, it went bad. After a year, it had only captured .1% of the market.
While it had its fans, it was nothing like the groundswell that Cherry 7 Up had received. So the company decided that rather than try to keep the brand going, they would pull the plug. In early 1989, bottles stopped appearing on store shelves and by Spring of that year, it would be gone. So what had gone wrong?
Lots of things.
Foremost, 7 Up wanted to keep the product train rolling and according to Russ Klein, who was senior vice president for marketing at Seven-Up at the time, “Success somewhat intoxicated us about new products and for what we felt were more opportunities with the 7-Up trademark.”
So they chose a product, which while tasty, had not been broadly tested with the public and slapped their brand on it. Hoping that the name alone would entice people to drink it and after doing so, they would be hooked. That didn’t happen.
Consumers had an idea of what 7 Up meant to them. It was the Uncola. The primary focus of their Cherry 7 Up advertising seemed to be about getting people ready for a pink soda. They didn’t do any of that for 7 Up Gold. They were courting males 18 to 34 with a product they had little interest in buying, and completely ignored the audience they had success with on Cherry 7 Up. Moms.
Roger Easley, who was President of 7 UP Bottling of San Francisco, summed it up nicely after the product had failed, when he said in 1989, “People have a clear view of what 7 Up Products should be — clear and crisp and clean, and no caffeine. 7 Up Gold is darker, and it does have caffeine, so it doesn’t fit the 7 Up image.”
They focused on lifestyle and when shoppers were in stores and spotted an amber 7 Up brand, it was confusing. Was it a cola? Did it have caffeine? Why was it called gold? None of that was answered in time to make a difference.
Nowadays, most people do not remember 7 Up Gold, and it’s not a product that developed enough of a passionate following to guarantee a re-release. While those are both true, it is still worth knowing a little about this short-lived brand, either as a cautionary tale or as an interesting footnote in the history of soft drinks.