I joined the beer company Grolsch in 2005, inheriting an existing Canadian advertising campaign that pivoted around the “sch” in the brand’s name. The iconic brewer was working to build their Canadian business, and they had accepted the counsel of their Canadian marketing agency to expand brand awareness by establishing the correct pronunciation of the company’s Dutch name through widespread advertising. The advertising was built upon creative executions that played on this “sch” idea.
The campaign execution involved print ads, trade collateral (beer coasters, posters), out of home ads (billboards, transit shelters), and a lot of radio that hammered home the correct verbal pronunciation of the brand’s name. The radio ads also established the brand’s Netherlands heritage through a questionable (but allegedly humorous) Dutch accent. It was a clever idea - the campaign won a few awards, and it increased “unaided brand awareness,” if not actual sales.
We chose to evolve the brand’s Canadian ad messaging in the following year. You need more than name recognition to motivate purchase in the beer business, and while heightened brand awareness was a valuable step, it didn’t actually stimulate new business (and the concept was hated in Quebec), so we moved on.
I was reminded of the old campaign earlier today when I read a social media post from a past colleague who accused the carbonated beverage company Schweppes of “stealing” the decade-old Grolsch “sch” creative concept. On the surface, Schweppes has taken an almost identical approach to the Grolsch campaign in their recent Canadian advertising, with words like ”RefreSCHing” and “ThirSCHt” in their creative executions. It’s definitely a similar concept - too close for comfort, really.
Unfortunately, my old colleague’s indignation appears to be unfounded - because Schweppes already executed a variation on this same theme between 1965 and 1973. Apparently, in the UK, the tagline “Schhh…. you know who” is legendary among those who are old enough to remember it. If anything, today’s current Schweppes creative builds upon their own 50-year-old idea, bringing it into the present.
So, hooray for the internet information age: this original “sch” Schweppes campaign was created by the London office of Ogilvy and Mather. O&M had worked with Schweppes since 1953, and my guess is that the early “sch” campaign was designed to build their business outside of the UK, developing the same sort of name recognition and unaided brand awareness that Grolsch’s Canadian agency was targeting over 40 years later.
The true genius of O&M’s old Schweppes concept, in my opinion, is the “sch” onomatopoeia that replicates the sound created when you open a bottle of soda. By linking the “sch” sound to the Schweppes brand, their advertising claimed ownership over an attribute that was common to the entire carbonated beverage segment - the auditory signal that a beverage is ready for drinking. I’m sure that many consumers thought of Schweppes every time they opened a carbonated beverage bottle or can, regardless of which product they were opening. Owning an audio cue like this across an entire segment is huge - every fizzy beverage opened would echo the Schweppes brand - including colas, mineral waters, beer and cider. This auditory element could have worked for the Grolsch campaign too… if only the agency had thought of it (though to be fair, while the cans and crowntops go "schhh." the iconic Grolsch Swingtop bottle goes “pop.”)
I’m not suggesting that Grolsch’s Canadian agency stole their idea from Schweppes in 2005, nor am I suggesting that ideas are being recycled by anybody now - I would never make such accusations. What is interesting is how it is much easier to verify the originality of creative ideas in the internet age. In 2005, nobody was archiving old advertising campaigns online, so there were fewer ways to check for originality. Now, I can easily learn that Schweppes relaunched themselves in the UK with a modern version of the “schhh” campaign - in 2006. I can also clearly follow the thread between a great old advertising idea and a modern reinterpretation, in great detail.
There are so many creative ideas, and there is so much danger of crossover - but at least it’s simpler today to verify when intellectual property has already been used,
just as it is easier to understand how legacy brands are building on their history.