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Collecting 7Up's Most Beautiful, Hallucinatory Billboards

In the late 1960s, the 7Up brand was about to go belly up when a unique ad campaign turned it around and made 7Up cool again. The J. Walter Thompson ad agency decided 7Up would be the “UnCola,” and trippy hippie-dippy psychedelic ads would rebrand the drink as something the younger generation would drink. The billboards went up several months before Woodstock, and posters and other accessories for college students were distributed. The soda would now be associated with peace, love, brotherhood, and artwork that evoked the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. Bob Treat remembers those billboards, because he actually had one from those days. And in the last few years, he’s bought a couple dozen more. He tells us about the ad campaign that changed 7Up, which involved dozens of artists, some who became household names.  

Collectors Weekly: How much of an influence was Peter Max?

Treat: I see his name associated with the billboard “Wet Un Wild,” because of its association with “The Yellow Submarine” animated movie the Beatles put out, based on their song, sung by Ringo Starr. There’s a big controversy around whether Heinz Edelmann or Peter Max did the original concept for that film. Max says that he developed the concept and it got stolen, while many other people say absolutely not. “Wet Un Wild” actually has a green submarine on a yellow background. Your eye doesn’t perceive it at first, but the sub is a green 7Up bottle. When you look at it, the first thing you’d think of is the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” and then if you think Beatles, you think Peter Max.

But a lot of the style elements like the sunburst, or a sun with rays radiating out, go back to the Push Pin Studios, which Milton Glaser co-founded. His protégés at Push Pin Studios were drawing that sunburst pattern years before it was done by the 7Up artists. And they were doing some of the same psychedelic graphic elements you see in these billboards years before “Yellow Submarine” came out.

The billboards were paper, and not many survived the 40 years since the ad campaign wound down. If Bob Treat had his way, he’d have an example of each one of the 53 designs, protected by acid-free paper, with digitized copies for all to enjoy. Read about the psychedelic 7Up billboard art of the hippie generation at Collectors Weekly.

(Image courtesy of Bob Treat)

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