I don’t know about you, but commercials can often take me back my formative years as quickly as any song or movie can. That is why we will continue this semi-regular feature on ’80s commercials that I consider particularly memorable, noteworthy or forgotten. Television commercials were much more influential back when we were forced to watch them without the luxury to fast-forward through and/or stream shows with limited or no interruptions. This issue will cover the Dr. Pepper “Be a Pepper” campaign from the late ’70s into the early ’80s.
Dr. Pepper was first served in 1885 (one year prior to the introduction of Coca-Cola), but was first marketed for sale in the United States in 1904. The formula for Dr. Pepper is a trade secret and is touted as including 23 different flavors. Early advertisements for this soft drink made medical claims, stating that it aided digestion and restored vim, vigor, and vitality. They used several other marketing campaigns over the years, but hit a home run in the late ’70s with an idea that specifically targeted a younger demographic of ages 13-30.
That idea sure worked. The “Be a Pepper” campaign began in 1977 continued until about 1983. Anybody that was old enough during those years has to remember the jingle which went “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” It was a catchy tune that caused you to hum or sing along and even resulted in clothing and accessories featuring “I’m a Pepper”. By 1980, “Be a Pepper” was ranked as the third most popular of all advertising campaigns in the United States.
What you might not know is that song was originally sung by none other than Barry Manilow before he conducted Bette Midler’s orchestra and before his own huge pop career when he was a renown commercial jingle writer. Manilow also sung the McDonald’s “You Deserve a Break Today” jingle and actually wrote “Like a Good Neighbor” for State Farm and “I’m Stuck on Band-Aids.”
Another bit of trivia and connection to ’80s pop culture is that in the 1986 film Short Circuit, the robot #5’s first line is, “Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” Remember this?
“Be a Pepper” commercials featured such artists as Michael Jackson and the Jacksons, Chic, The Statler Brothers, Tanya Tucker, the Little River Band, Ray Bolger (known best as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz) and even Popeye the Sailor Man. But I most fondly remember the ones starring David Naughton who would later go on to star in the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. Here is one of the earlier “Be a Pepper” commercials featuring Naughton that includes the memorable song and slogan.
Here is one that featured a cameo by Popeye near the end.
Here is another one featuring Naughton from 1980…
Here is one more from around 1980 that also includes New York Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry…
Dr Pepper ended its relationship with Naughton after he appeared naked in the film An American Werewolf in London. Then the entire “Be a Pepper” campaign officially ended in 1983 when it was changed to “Dr. Pepper Made a Pepper Out Of Me.” But it sure made an impact on brand recognition and pop culture while it was in use with many people remembering it well to this day.
You really know something is part of the pop culture landscape when spoofs and parodies are done. In July of 1981, this sketch featuring “Dr. Shekter” was performed on SCTV. Wouldn’t you like to see my doctor, too?
There you go, a trip down memory lane in the form of TV commercials. Later in the decade, you had Michael Jackson selling Pepsi and Max Headroom selling Coke, but for a brief time Dr. Pepper was on top of the soda promotional marketing mountain. “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” And, yep, we were peppers in the ’80s.