Understanding Dr Pepper

"Once I get Dr Pepper down their throats, and tell them about it, I'm in business."

IN SPITE OF THE NEW expansion, it may be that Dr. Pepper still looks better coming from a 7-11 cooler than it does from behind a New York bar. When served at a recent private screening of a new film given by critic and gadabout Rex Reed, it was hardly a success. Author Jaquelyn Susann, cajoled into taking a drink, made a face nearly as sour as her prose and said, “Yetch.” The rest of Reed’s guests, among them actresses Lotte Lenya and Arlene Dahl, actor Joe Dallasandro, and directors Frank Perry and Paul Morrissey, all concurred. They took one polite sip and then set their glasses, soggy cocktail napkins still intact, on window ledges, on empty chairs, atop urinals in the men’s room, or simply shoved them right back into the hand of the bartender who, as the evening wore on, dealt with his fate by calmly handing the glass to the next person who came along. —G.C.

A spoonful of Dr. Pepper will not relieve constipation, hives, excessive acidity, morbidity, sterility, bile, eczema, hysteria, bronchitis or what ails you in general. “Folks still splash it on. And some rub it on. But the only claim we make is that Dr. Pepper is soothing to youngsters suffering post-tonsillectomies. Teenagers have also discovered that they can drink a lot of it without getting pimples.”

That was W.W. Clements, the balding, genial, Dr. Pepper-swigging president of the company making the second-oldest soft drink in the nation, and he’s telling us what we wished we’d known through all those Coke-addicted, acne-plagued years of adolescence. While we were religiously “taking” Dr. Pepper at 10, 2, and 4, we were also drinking Coke the rest of the time, defeating the only therapeutic purpose all of us who still have our tonsils could have gleaned from it.

Perhaps the mythical healing quality of Dr. Pepper which will be hardest to see go by the wayside is as a sure-fire cure for constipation. Many were the days that we avoided drinking prune juice and other more hideous remedies by assuring our parents that we had “taken” our Dr. Pepper, which they, and we, were convinced came from mashed and otherwise transformed prunes, with purgative quality still intact. This remedy Mr. Clements firmly denies.

But if old legends die hard, Dr. Pepper seems to be making a strong effort to leave them back in the Southern territory that has been its stronghold for generations. The drive to expand the market for Dr. Pepper into the rest of the country and on around the world is concentrating strictly on its qualities as a thirst quencher. Even the 10, 2, 4 clock that was the trademark of the Dr. Pepper bottle has passed into history. Dr. Pepper means business, and when a company means business, old myths give way to new realities.

Nowadays, the only people entitled to claim miraculous properties for Dr. Pepper are the company’s stockholders. In old age, the company has blossomed anew as an elixir of profit, enjoying 140 consecutive months of sales increases. Sales have doubled over the past five years: from $28 million in 1966 to $63 million last year. Corporate profits have also doubled: $2.8 million in 1966 to $6.7 million last year. “We have only begun to move,” says Clements. “I expect our business to double again in the next five years, and in the next five years after that. We will become a quarter billion dollar company.”

Such effervescent predictions may, in fact, be a bit conservative. Advancing under a steady barrage of catchy television commercials, Dr. Pepper has staged an impressive five-year march out of the South to go national in a big way. For example, Dr. Pepper entered the New York market in 1970, sold 18 million bottles the first two weeks, and by last May New York equalled 95 per cent of the sales volume of Dr. Pepper’s largest plant in Dallas, which cranks out 10 million bottles monthly.

A Dallas-born journalist named David DeVoss tells of entering a Manhattan delicatessen and ordering a kosher salami on rye, with a cold and sparkling Dr. Pepper. “It simply blew my mind,” DeVoss reports. “It was like the merging of two great cultures; munching on a big kosher pickle and washing it down with my Dr. Pepper almost brought tears of joy. The two complemented each other like wine and cheese.”

President Clements, whose personal consumption rate is ten bottles of Dr. Pepper daily, admits that his drink is an acquired taste. “Once I get Dr. Pepper down their throats and tell them about it, I’m in business,” he insists. “If we get a person to drink three bottles a day for three days, we have a strong grip on a steady customer.”

The “misunderstood” aspects of the drink, however, are not mere Madison Avenue jargon. Because of its familiar deep burgundy color, many initiates in Brooklyn, Chicago and Los Angeles expect Dr. Pepper to taste like a cola, which it definitely is not. The distinctive taste lies halfway between a cola and a cherry-flavored soft-drink, although it is not a cherry-coke of teenager fame. Not being a cola has had important financial impact on the company. In 1966, the Food and Drug Administration formally declared Dr. Pepper not to be a cola, allowing Dr. Pepper to use cola bottling franchises off limits to other colas, because of licensing arrangements which provide for exclusive cola territorial assignments.

Being a natural fanatic about Dr. Pepper, Clements (who claims his wife even bastes turkey with the stuff) long believed that the rest of the country and the world would be willing to swim in it the way Texas and the South have done, if given the chance. “For years,” he says, “Dr. Pepper was considered a Southern drink. Why? Because we only marketed in the South. Southerners were the only ones who knew of it and drank it.”

And drink it they do. In Texas, its birthplace, Dr. Pepper is consumed

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