The 2-foot-tall figure, made famous by countless tales of lore, is hopping and shouting his way into the public consciousness.
His angry personality and aggressive attitude may surprise, and even offend, some people, but his creators believe he will be considered a figure of fun and synonymous with the new drink, dnL.
The Texas-based soft drink company Dr. Pepper/7Up, Inc., recently launched an advertising campaign to promote its latest product, dnL, a fruit-flavored, green colored soft-drink whose title is derived from typography that resembles 7Up upside-down.
Where 7Up is sold as a clear beverage in a green bottle, dnL is green colored and sold in clear packaging. The new beverage also contains caffeine, which 7Up does not.
John Clarke, who is chief advertising officer for Dr. Pepper/7Up, Inc. explained the genesis of the campaign, saying, “The unique property of dnL is the color green. Basically, that fundamental concept led to Willie the Leprechaun.”
It is interesting that the color green is associated to such an extent with Ireland and all things Irish. There are parts of the Catskills that would produce a lot more chlorophyll than the Irish countryside and the Irish flag is not the only one to feature the color.
The character is reminiscent of the Leprechaun King character in the 1959 Disney film “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” dnL’s Willie stands about 2 feet tall, is dressed in a green velour jogging suit and wears a green bowler hat. He has a red beard and wears a prominent tag with his name on it.
The leprechaun is featured in three 15-second television advertisements that debuted at the end of July. Set on the streets of New York, each segment emphasizes Willie’s frustration at being so small in stature.
The first is called “Freak of Nature” and features the character pulling a tiny green cart loaded down with miniature bottles of the new drink. With a clearly identifiable Irish accent, the character speaks to the audience. “7Up wants me to peddle their soft drink dnL, probably because we’re both green,” he says, then goes on to peddle his wares, shouting at the top of his voice to attract the attention of the people bustling past on the busy New York sidewalk. “Down here, you freakin’ eejit,” he yells to one passerby who can’t quite locate where the voice is coming from.
The second spot, entitled “No Lad,” casts the little man in just as pugnacious a mood. A young man on the street asks the leprechaun, “Are you the guy giving out free dnL?” Willie answers in a hysterical shriek, “No, that would be the other leprechaun with the green wagon full of dnL.” The slogan on the screen advises the viewer to, “Believe in Green.”
In the third scenario, called “Myth,” Willie is once again pulling the cart and is rigged out in the same sweats. A New York cop asks him if he has a permit for the wagon. Willie answers, “I’m not real, you moron, I’m a myth.” With that, he proceeds to dance a jig, humming a tune all the while.
It is this last advertisement that has already caused some confusion. At first glance, it seems as though the walking Irish stereotype is saying, “I’m a Mick,” which would naturally yield a number of criticisms.
“The only complaints we have had so far were about that,” Clarke said. “There was some misinterpretation. We are rewriting that one.”
The general pitch of the advertisement is that due to Willie’s size, he is not taken seriously and has to resort to shouting and tantrum fits to get attention.
But is it reinforcing a negative Irish stereotype or just a fun ploy to make people laugh?
“I’m 100 percent Irish and our president’s name is McGrath, so we are very much in tune with how Irish people would look at this,” Clarke said.
The makers of dnL hope that Willie will become loved by viewers and potential consumers.
“He is a cute and unique spokesperson and will get attention,” Clarke said, adding that Willie’s humor will help create a warm, personal brand.
Ailish Walshe is a commerce student at University College Dublin from Westmeath, Ireland. The 21-year-old, who is in New York with the J1 Visa program, said she wasn’t particularly offended.
“I think it’s a visual thing,” she said. “Subconsciously, they want to give the impression that dnL is a lifter drink and that it has the same effect as an alcoholic one.”
Walshe rationalized this by pointing out that the use of a clearly identifiable Irish figure would enable people to subconsciously make this connection.
“Even if it is a soft drink, the fact that it is a drink is an immediate association with the Irish,” she said. “People like the Irish over here and that’s why they use the leprechaun.”
Dr. Pepper/7Up is not the only entity to cash in on the Irish stereotypes to market products. The University of Notre Dame “fighting irish” use a fighting leprechaun as its athletic mascot. And the law firm Fitzgerald & Fitzgerald, P.C. has on its webpage a picture of a tiny leprechaun, dressed in green and wearing bright red boxing gloves. The emblem reappears again just above the line, “We fight for kids’ rights.”
When Dr. Pepper/7Up, Inc. was asked if the company had considered the effects of using a stock Irish pantomime character in an advertising campaign, Clarke said that if the complaints required the company to revisit the campaign, it would.
“We work by instinct and research,” he said. “We are also constantly vigilant. However, the one thing you learn in advertising is that you can’t please everyone all the time.”