OPINION: Cowen on ... Schweppes

As practitioners from Marie Antoinette to Victoria Hervey have

found to their cost, sophistication can be a bloody tricky act to pull


Your window of credibility tends to be incredibly small. Lesser mortals

have the annoying habit of either turning on you because they think

you're too stuck up, or turning their own noses up at your vulgar

attempts to court popularity.

Whether you're a tyrannical queen, titled page-three fodder or a classic

brand, it's a tricky balancing act between broadening your niche appeal

and maintaining your crucial allure. This challenge is particularly

pertinent to Schweppes tonic water - a FMCG product with a genuinely

sophisticated image.

The Schweppes mixers have several rather pressing challenges to


For starters, there's the decline in cravat-wearing types mixing their

own drinks at home - a problem that the brand shares with the gin market

as a whole. Perhaps more worrying, though, is the fact that those of us

still draining the odd long glass of gin or vodka have decided that a

mixer is, after all, just a mixer. It's not the reason we're having the

drink and cheap supermarket tonic water will do just fine.

Schweppes needs to persuade the great unwashed that it pays to be

discerning in your drinking habits and so Mother has asked readers to

engage in some discerning of their own. We're supposed to consider some

"shocking" images, study them and eventually work out that we're not, in

fact, looking at Camilla Parker Bowles preparing for a royal wedding -

or Margaret Thatcher comforting Jeffrey Archer in prison. Hey presto,

we've worked out the difference between an imitation and the real thing

- and wasn't it rewarding?

Coca-Cola clearly hopes that engaging its audience, rather than simply

showing it images of discerning, sophisticated people, will make this

work accessible to a broader swathe of the population. As a result,

these ads are running on a media schedule that mixes Vogue and Esquire

with Hello! and OK! and gives mass-market exposure. It also fits with

Coke's intention of moving its brands away from TV. If it can persuade

us all to play along with its game then it'll have pulled it off


I think there's very little chance of that, however. Mother has sold

itself completely on the work of Alison Jackson - a photographer who's

in vogue with the arthouse crowd at the moment. In doing so, it's

sticking to the rules laid out by the high-fashion brands such as

Mulberry - sophisticated press ads should look like art, with branding

kept to a minimum.

Mother has assumed that Jackson's faked paparazzo photography will be as

stimulating for the average drinker as it doubtless is for those who go

to art galleries seeking it out. Unfortunately, it's wrong. These images

aren't eye-catching enough to grab our attention - and the scenes they

show aren't as shocking as someone clearly thinks they are. Worse, it's

far too obvious that we're not really looking at Camilla Parker Bowles

or Jeffrey Archer. Readers aren't going to be disturbed or engaged-

they're just going to wonder what the point of it all is and swiftly

turn the page.

This leads to another problem. If we can't be bothered to work out the

agenda of these photographs, then we're simply going to associate the

brand with what we see in front of us. If Schweppes wants to re-energize

the image of tonic water (and the drinks that it's mixed with), then

surely the last person they want in their ads is a member of the

Thatcher family.

Dead cert for a Pencil? No celebratory G&Ts for Mother.

File under? Sch for Schloppy thinking.

What would the chairman's wife say? Was the camera not focusing


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