Solo, a Norwegian soft drink, is appealing to cynical youth with darker
ads, Margaret Olley says
The unattractive, the unhappy and the untalented all star in a
distinctive brand of advertising developed by the Norwegian soft drink
company, Solo. It is advertising which, by always featuring failures,
has attracted top honours in advertising awards and has achieved
phenomenal cut-through in its home market.
A cyclist pedalling like crazy is overtaken by other cyclists -
including a little old lady - even after a swig of Solo. An opera singer
still sings badly after a sip of the orange nectar. An unhappy
wallflower at a dance remains on her own, despite knocking back the
Solo’s marketing manager, Jonn arne Horpen, says some people initially
thought the company and its agency, JBR McCann, were mad not to use the
traditional advertising construct - you take a drink and something
But since the campaign was launched in January 1993, Solo has proved its
critics wrong by lifting its market share of Norway’s soft drink market
and winning over ten advertising industry awards.
‘Some people thought it would be a commercial disaster. They called it
losers’ advertising,’ Horpen says.
‘Others thought it was pure genius. It created a debate in the media
about this kind of honesty in advertising.’
The debate calmed down once the ads were shown to have increased sales
in Norway, the only place where Solo is sold.
The campaign, taking advantage of young people’s cynicism towards
advertising, was put together in 1992 when Solo, after several years of
falling market share, took on JBR McCann to manage its account,
replacing Backer Spielvogel Bates.
‘Our market share had fallen to 9 per cent of the total drinks market,’
Horpen says. ‘We had not managed to differentiate from our rivals and
were using the same kind of marketing as Coca-Cola and Pepsi.’
The creative director and copywriter on the account, Frode Karlberg,
believed something completely different was needed to put some energy
back into the drink that had been made in Norway since 1934.
‘Solo had been following the same paths as others with an international
lifestyle approach including all the traditional ingredients - youth,
music, fun and style - just like any other international soft drink
manufacturer,’ Karlberg says.
‘The sales proved something, and something serious, had to be done. They
were, if not desperate, rather worried. It was not just a question of
adjusting strategies. We had to do something totally new.’
Karlberg explains that the agency and the company decided to give the
15- to 25-year-old target market the truth.
‘The fact is that the youth audience, at least in Norway, has long ago
seen through the traditional advertising of youth products. They don’t
believe it. They know no product can make you happier, prettier or more
popular,’ Karlberg says.
‘We thought our only hope to make the brand stand out was to tell the
truth. Market share is now up to 10 per cent.’
As a precursor to the campaign, Solo ran a poster campaign rather like a
declaration telling people what it was going to do.
The poster, depicting a rather gloomy looking youth, told people that
soft drinks cannot bring happiness.
‘We told people that, from that point on, we promised never to speak
like that again but to tell the truth,’ Karlberg says. ‘We made a kind
of official promise.’
The first ad, which hit the screens over three-and-a-half years ago,
began as a spoof on soft drinks commercials with its starring character
being a poor unfortunate who is neither popular nor successful. The
In one commercial, the cyclist is riding hell for leather, drinking Solo
rather than an isotonic drink. First one cyclist overtakes him, then
another and, finally, an old lady goes by.
The ad ends with the award-winning line: ‘Solo - probably the only soft
drink that cures nothing but thirst.’
That ad won a bronze award at Cannes. Another bronze-winner features a
girl sitting alone at a table in a cafe trying to catch the attention of
a good-looking hunk at another table - until his boyfriend walks in and
But the ad which won the highest overseas award, the golden lion at
Cannes, features an eccentric old opera star singing an out-of-tune
version of Happy Birthday on stage. The singer takes a swig of Solo then
continues singing - in exactly the same way.
The most recent commercial stars a rock band getting into the swing of
the gig, seeing rows of fans in front of the stage. The lead singer,
drinking Solo, throws his empty bottle into the audience then flings
himself into the throng - only to realise that there is no-one beyond
the fourth row. The rest of the pitch-black auditorium is empty. He
lands in a heap.
Horpen says Solo, which is owned by five different Norwegian breweries,
has plans to develop the campaign further but she would not offer
‘We’re happy to keep the campaign as it is, along the same lines, but we
are discussing different ways of execution,’ he explains.
Norwegian advertising statistics estimate Solo’s annual expenditure on
advertising at around 5 million Norwegian crowns (pounds 1.5 million).
Karlberg says there is more ground to cover. The ads only appear on TV
and in cinemas but there are no immediate plans to go into print.
‘But there is still a lot to do and a long way to go on in-store
activities,’ Karlberg says, citing shelf-spacing, product placement and
‘That’s where Solo will meet the hard competition from Coca-Cola, which
is the world champion at things like that.’