November 1999
s m u g
compulsion
by Jael McHenry

Sprite serves no purpose in my life. I drink it madly nonetheless.

Not that I consume three cans a day-madly is perhaps a bit excessive-but I prioritize its consumption. I make it a point to drink Sprite. This, despite the fact that it serves no purpose.

What purpose should it serve, you ask? Should it change your life? Should it make you smarter, brighter, more sexually alluring? Should you rely on soda as your key to the gates of Paradise? No.

Iím more practical than that. Most of the time my choice of beverage is based on a short-term goal, like staying awake. In that case, obviously, coffee or cola is a good choice. Itís the caffeine Iím after. Example: Diet Coke. Serving the purpose of providing caffeine, it packs the added feature of being calorie-free, so it also prevents me from swelling up to the size of one of those Richard Simmons Deal-A-Meal poster children-the people who canít leave their houses without widening the doorways, the people who roll over one day and find thereís been a full-size turkey under their arm since Thanksgiving of 1993.

My purpose, when drinking Diet Coke, is to stay awake and stay thin. I have no brand loyalty when it comes to Coke. Iím perfectly content with Pepsi. Iím not really a brand driven person. Coffee serves the same purpose, and I couldnít care less whether the coffee I drink is even good, as long as it does the job. If Iím awake, itís working.

Everything changes when it comes to Sprite. To me, Sprite is not a drink.

Sprite is, instead, a statement.

Is it a political statement, you ask? Am I trying to send a message? Yes. By yes, I mean no-itís not that kind of statement. Itís not political. This isnít like boycotting Pepsi because of their activities in Burma, or other grass-roots college-campus changing-the-world-through-soda-selection things. This isnít like boycotting California grapes or picketing the K-Mart. I make a point of drinking Sprite for a very simple reason.

It is the simplest of all reasons.

I love their ads.

There are very few things that I do just because TV tells me to. There are few products I support just because their ads are so cool. Hereís the shortlist of ad campaigns I love: Snickers, Hotbot, and Sprite. I donít eat Snickers, and my use of hotbot.com is often tossed aside if I don't get the search results I want. Sprite, though, I seek.

Whenever I have a choice of beverage and Iím not actively in need of caffeine, I drink Sprite. Itís not that I love the taste. (They used to promote "the great taste of lim-on." Guess what; lim-on tastes a lot like nothing.) The taste is fine. But I donít love it. Itís just something to drink that serves no purpose, aside from tickly bubbles and a non-political statement.

And reminding me how much I love their ads.

I donít just mean a specific commercial, either. In certain cases, I can be indifferent to an ad campaign and still be riveted to my couch by a single commercial from that campaign. Examples: Khaki Soul; the got milk? ad where the old woman with the non-dairy creamer is imprisoned in her darkened home by a horde of super-intelligent cats; the Mitsubishi ad with the Hector Elizondo voiceover about how love at first sight is based on sight; the Volkswagen ad where mechanics draw a parallel between a full-size spare tire and the coelacanth.

(These commercials are all riveting for different reasons. I donít actually enjoy watching the got milk? one, but it engrosses me every time. It's like a little episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents sandwiched between the end of Sports Night and the beginning of Once and Again.)

Every Sprite commercial that comes out amuses me. Some more than others-I wasnít overly impressed by the one with the little pop-up cut-outs of Grant Hill going cha-ching -but when a new ad shows up on my TV and I like it, chances are itís selling me Sprite. Some examples:

  • three tough cookies in pick-up-game-in-the-hood basketball gear, half-shouting at the camera promoting some sports drink until the directorís voice calls, "Genius, the canís upside down." The attitude evaporates and the central tough cookie crumbles, moaning, "Donít talk to me like that, I played Hamlet at Cambridge." The other two quickly follow suit, whining, "Once again, youíve ruined my concentration," and "Excuse me, excuse me, whatís my motivation? Thatís it, Iíll be in my trailer." Message: donít listen to what these guys tell you.

  • a little boy in his bedroom somehow ends up wrestling one of those monolithic WWF creatures. Before starting the match, the child hustles over to his dresser and takes a swig out of a Sprite bottle. He is then picked up and hurled across the room by the larger man. Message: donít drink something because youíre told itíll make you better, because it wonít.

  • a group of movie execs sitting around a table, pitching their boss plans for a new summer blockbuster flick, Death Slug. Each whips out a tie-in item. The Slug action figure (which leaves a slime trail.) Slug Slippers. Slug-on-a-stick. Music video: Slug Slide. When the boss nods approvingly and asks about the movie itself, one exec says confidently, "Well, we donít have a script yet, but we can bang one out by Friday." Message: donít believe the hype.

There are more I canít think of at the moment. But they are all tied together by a common thread, a central message: donít listen to ad campaigns. Nothing you drink will make you stronger. Nothing you drink will make you famous. Just because someone tells you to drink something, thatís the worst reason in the world to drink it. Donít listen to spokesmen, donít listen to PR execs, donít even listen to us, weíre no better than they are.

Ironic, isnít it, that this anti-ad ad campaign is the one ad campaign I obey slavishly. Their whole point is to drink something because you like it. But I donít drink Sprite because I like it. I drink it because they tell me to.

So either their ad campaign is not working at all, or itís working perfectly.

back to the junk drawer

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