By Changing a Single Word, Schweppes Hopes to Transform Its Entire Positioning

Predecessors sorely lacked this campaign's innocent levity

Schweppes changed one word for its latest campaign. Schweppes
Headshot of Angela Natividad

With the transformation of one word from the past to the present tense, Schweppes hopes to change its brand positioning—and maybe even its destiny.

From the long-standing “What Did You Expect?,” its new “What Do You expect?” positioning debuts with the following spot by BETC Paris.

Schweppes is a bit of a weird brand. It’s neither stand-alone cocktail nor stand-alone cola, and this lack of clarity has always been visible in its advertising. There was that time it tried to be a cocktail, and—the great precursor to today—its odd decision to willfully claim misunderstanding by plunging face first into perplexing sexual innuendo.

The latter is a mindset that’s held to this day, with the tagline “What did you expect?” led by actresses playing on the bizarre idea that a desire for Schweppes could be mistaken for sexual desire.

It’s uncomfortable to look at for everyone involved.

On the surface, “What Do You Expect?” bears little difference from previous spots. The music is punchier, sure, but it’s still led by a beautiful woman with an inexplicable thirst for the stuff.

Yet gone is the sultry pouting, this sense of an A-list superstar being followed by voyeuristic viewers up to the moment she (hopefully) satisfies her aching desire—a woman defined by the past tense, coquettishly acting and then reacting (“Hey, what did you expect?”) to unstated expectation.

Instead, our new heroine is defined by action—the present tense. There’s never a question of what she wants (not you!), and she pursues her bottle down an endless bar, embarking on whimsical adventures through forests and karaoke bars. Whether she’s aware of a viewer is never known; unlike previous égéries, she doesn’t wrap by confronting the camera eye.

She simply laughs, oblivious to all but herself.

“What do you expect?” the ad asks, and our minds flutter to the expansive possibilities of that question—out of life, out of this moment?—which itself marks a change from the damn-near accusing version of the question in the past tense.

The spot was directed by Michael Gracey, who made The Greatest Showman and, in ad land, is also known for Evian’s “RollerBabies” a Cillit Bang’s “The Mechanic,” both also by BETC.

“We wanted to push the boundaries of any regular night out by playing with how both the girl and the bottle lead each other into unexpected situations and how we could flip those scenarios on their head,” Gracey explained.

“For example, the laundromat bar could’ve just been a square space you crawl into through the washing machine, but instead we wanted to defy your expectations—so the entire bar spins like a washing machine.”

He added that the film’s “distinctive energy” exists because “with Schweppes, nothing was off limits!” and BETC was afforded full creative freedom.

While Schweppes could perhaps always be seen as an alcohol alternative (in addition to a cocktail ingredient), that wasn’t a position one could easily focus on in previous spots. Here, in work not weighed down by a heavy veil of suggestion, the product veritably glows—positioning the brand as a fun-loving companion for people who don’t necessarily want to spend the whole night sloshed.

There’s an innocent levity to the new positioning that its past-tense predecessors sorely lacked.

“A couple of years ago we had a great time with Michael, putting our twist on the classic story of Cinderella with ‘The Mechanic’ for Cillit Bang, and we thought it would be fun to do another tale,” BETC Paris president/creative director Stéphane Xiberras said.

Xiberras continued: “If you watch the film closely, you’ll see that even if the girl is wearing 12 inch heels and a sparkly dress—it’s a little Alice in Schweppes Wonderland!”

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@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.