It's an UP Thing for a Cure

MDA's first national corporate sponsor provides help with a lemon-lime twist

by Alyssa Quintero on September 1, 2007 - 10:24am

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 5
7up-mda logo

Thirsty? Pick up that famous green can with the red dot, quench your thirst and support "Jerry's kids." Created in 1929, 7UP has thrived as one of America's favorite soft drinks. The cool, crisp, refreshing lemon-lime soft drink made from 100 percent natural flavors is a fixture in American culture and the second-largest brand in the lemon-lime market.

But more importantly, for more than 30 years, 7UP bottlers, employees and retailers have teamed up with the Muscular Dystrophy Association to bring help and hope to people affected by neuromuscular diseases across the country.

Now a flagship brand in the Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages portfolio, 7UP was MDA’s first national corporate sponsor. Since the partnership began, 7UP’s raised some $38 million for MDA’s programs of research, service and information, last year contributing $2.2 million during the national Telethon broadcast.

And in supporting MDA, the drink with a refreshing twist also has given a new twist to the business of fund raising, by pioneering the practice now known as cause-related marketing.

A new era begins

On the heels of its remarkable success with the “uncola” advertising campaign in 1967, 7UP’s then chief marketing officer, William E. Winter, wanted something new — a chance to work alongside a nationally recognized charity. After learning about MDA and its reputation for efficiency and widespread public support, Winter was sold.

 “We decided to become a national sponsor, but it took quite a bit of doing to get it going,” Winter said. “At first, we were concerned about associating a soft drink like 7UP with a devastating disease like muscular dystrophy. And we didn’t know how consumers would react, especially if they thought we were using MDA as a device for marketing 7UP and building sales.”

In 1973, 7UP conducted a consumer survey and discovered that MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis ranked at the top of all celebrities supporting national health agencies and similar programs. With the bottlers and consumers on board, it was a done deal.

“We knew that we were working with a nonprofit that was well managed, well administered and offered more than just lip service,” Winter said. “MDA actually was doing something in terms of medical research and patient services.

“Everyone knew Jerry Lewis and the Telethon, which was a big plus, and consumer reaction was positive, so we stuck with it,” Winter added.

Cause-related marketing is born

7up-mda partnership
Bill Winter (left) initiated the 7UP-MDA partnership in the mid 1970s.

The same year 7UP came onboard as a corporate sponsor — 1974 — Winter was named the company’s president and chief operating officer. 7UP pledged a minimum $100,000 contribution to MDA, and for its first marketing campaign, it developed point-of-purchase advertising for the bottlers to use in retail locations. In-store and newspaper ads touted the slogan “Join the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Fund Drive.”

The ads featured Lewis and then National Poster Child Mike Newsome, and appeared on banners and signs in tens of thousands of supermarkets and independent retail stores nationwide. More than 10,000 7UP trucks carried the Lewis posters, and before the Telethon, he appeared in a 7UP commercial that aired coast to coast.

7UP’s $2 million ad campaign for the Telethon was unprecedented at the time. Lewis described the drive as “the most sales-producing promotion ever put on by a soft drink company,” and 7UP marketing executives said it was “one big package of awareness” that had “all the elements to be the most exciting in our history.”

Every time consumers purchased 7UP products, the brand would make a contribution to MDA. As 7UP sales soared, so did contributions to MDA, and that marked the birth of cause-related marketing.

Cause-related marketing refers to a for-profit company that partners with a nonprofit in an effort to promote the company’s product or service while raising funds for the nonprofit. For 7UP and MDA, it’s been a “mutually beneficial” partnership, Winter said.

Many companies take credit for inventing cause-related marketing, but 7UP was a true innovator and pioneer in this once unexplored territory. The phrase “cause-related marketing” was first used by American Express in 1983 to describe its campaign to raise money for the Statue of Liberty’s restoration. But, 7UP was nine years ahead of the game.

Still a leader

Today, 7UP employees, bottlers and retailers support MDA’s research, services and information programs year-round through the Shamrocks Against Dystrophy mobile program, Aisles of Smiles, golf tournaments, 7UP ice cream float programs and other local retail promotions.

“It’s rewarding to be a part of MDA’s team and raise funds for such a worthwhile cause,” said Gerald Johnson, Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages’ marketing vice president. “MDA does an amazing job of making life better for the families impacted by these diseases, and with the help of our bottlers and key retailers, we’re committed to the battle against muscular dystrophy.”

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