Soft Drinks, Soft Colours of Schweppes

The Schweppes brand of soft, carbonated drinks has a history of 235 years. The earlier drinks were sparkling, clear and flavoured water-based drinks. Until today the vintage drinks of Schweppes are Tonic Water (late 18th century) and Ginger Ale (since 1870). When the brand added carbonated (soda) fruit drinks during the 20th century, it became more diffused. Mixing drinks is no stranger to Schweppes, but joining together different types of drinks under the same brand label made it necessary to distinguish them more visibly, such as with colour variants.

To-date, the drinks of Schweppes may serve two major functions. First, most carbonated drinks can be consumed ready for drinking. Second, carbonated drinks are suggested to be used as mixers with alcoholic drinks (the most famous is Gin & Tonic), moreover for creating cocktails. There is no strict division of drinks in that respect — some are more suited to be mixed in alcoholic drinks whereas others are best for drinking straight away. There are some drinks, however, that are especially created to be used as mixers (e.g., Tonic & Lime). The mixers are primarily classic drinks with lighter fruit flavour additions. In some countries (e.g., Anglo-Saxon) and in bars or pubs in general drinks suited as mixers are still held with higher esteem. Carbonated fruit drinks (e.g., orange, lemonade, grapes) are intended to be consumed more for refreshment and cooling. Mixers have a stronger image of festive drinks whereas if consumed as soft fruit drinks they are more casual; the former are associated more with evening or night consumption while the latter are for daytime consumption.

The Schweppes company was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, by Jacob Schweppe in 1783. In origin he was a Swiss watchmaker and jeweller, but with special interest in conducting science experiments. Schweppe is credited with developing a machine for carbonating water, and a method for keeping the water sparkling in a container for a longer time. He moved to London in the 1790s to expand the business in England. The Schweppes drinks gained great acclaim in the United Kingdom and received the Royal Warrant of appointment from King William IV (an accreditation renewed by successive monarchs to these days). In 1798 Schweppe sold most of his interests and passed his knowledge to three different people (he kept a portion of rights to himself and his daughter for several years, later also passed to a trustee)[1].

Moving forward to our time, the brand of Schweppes seems to have no single owning company as its ‘parent’. The trademark ownership, commercialisation and rights for proprietary drinks are distributed among several companies around the world. Two companies are apparently dominant: (1) In Europe, Scwheppes International Limited, a company of Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd., covers 22 countries on the continent (e.g., Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Sweden); (2) In the USA, Dr. Pepper / Seven Up Inc., also known as Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. From 1969 to 2007 Schweppes was connected with Cadbury (chocolate and confectionary) in the UK. With the breakup of Cadbury-Schweppes, Schweppes was taken under control of the American company whose interests were once held by Cadbury-Schweppes (Cadbury was taken over in a hostile move by Kraft in 2009, yet spun-off and transformed later into Mondelez)[2].

Under the circumstances of this dispersion of rights and commercialisation, it is clearly more difficult to talk in general terms about the drinks of Schweppes and visual branding. The post refers to drinks and designs in a major region and two countries where the play with colours is more conspicuous and impressive: Schweppes in EuropeSchweppes in Israel, and Schweppes in Australia. Their repertoires and classifications of drinks are not the same and their implementation of bottle and label designs are not identical, but they do share similar principles / attributes in visual design of packaging.

The brand marks that appear universally on bottles are the yellow banner with the name Schweppes in its familiar logotype, and the red button icon above it with the drawing of a fountain. The icon signifies the Crystal Fountain that Schweppes became famous for when the sparkling fountain was displayed at the Great Exhibition in London (Hyde Park) in 1851. Schweppes has been using it as its identifying symbol since then.

Colours of different hues (e.g., red, orange, purple, green, yellow) are applied on bottle labels to create better visual differentiation between drinks. The colour hue is often associated with flavour content (e.g., type of fruit) but sometimes the colours used are more symbolic (e.g., green for Ginger Ale). Often the colour of label matches the colour of drink seen through the transparent bottle (glass or plastic) but not necessarily so (notice that some drinks are clear or white-opaque). The colour of the drink and colour on label together act as strong differentiators between drinks and their flavours.

Furthermore, the colours almost always do not appear to be deep or full — they seem to be less saturated (i.e., they have a larger portion of white blended with the hue). That makes the colour on each drink’s label look softer, and may be perceived more cheerful and vivid. It is possible that also more brightness is entered in the colour applied. This seems to be important for delivering a desired spirit for various drinks. Whether intended or not by designers, a softer colour makes a good match particularly for soft fruit drinks. For a drink that is going to be used as a mixer in a cocktail, for instance, a softer colour may be perceived as livelier or of higher spirit.

The producer and marketer of Schweppes in Israel (Jafora-Tavori) tends toSchweppes Fruit Soft Drinks add explicit depictions of fruits on labels for its soft (sparkling) fruit drinks. That makes the drinks’ representations even more lively. The colour background appears particularly softer (or less saturated), and a white glow may also be discerned around some fruit images.  Drinks of Schweppes in Israel may be contained in glass bottles, plastic bottles (small and large), and cans; packaging combinations differ between types of drinks.  For mixers, however, the colour on each label is simpler, colour-uniform; colours differ between mixer drinks (e.g., Ginger Ale is beige, matching drink with label, blue is used symbolically for Bitter Lemon).

  • Recently Schweppes in Israel launched a series of soft fruit mixes in cans (e.g., Strawberry-Kiwi, Cocoanut-Pineapple, Watermelon-Lime) for the summer of 2020. For cans the visual attraction relies wholly on the cheerful play of colours on the surface of the can with the teasing tagline “Schhh… you know who”. The new drink line has been promoted with a joyous TV commercial.

The personal glass bottles of Schweppes Classics in Europe carry their labels on the neck of the bottle. For many years Schweppes’ bottles have been distinctively and easily identifiable by the labels on their necks with the famous yellow banner or ribbon. Their website tells visitors that the classic drinks (e.g., Ginger Ale, Orange, Indian Tonic, Cola, Pear Lime, Russchian, Mojito) are good “To mix or to quench your thirst”. The same colour is used above and below the banner (e.g., orange, green, yellow, brown, red), though the colour looks deeper, with an illustrative texture on top and softer below the Schweppes banner (Lemon Zero is exceptional).  The labels do look elegant in those designs. There is an additional category of Premium Mixers (e.g., Tonic & Hibiscus, Ginger Beer & Chili, Ginger Ale) with a special bottle shape, thicker and rounded body at base, and a long neck above. The labels on the necks are even more artful on this mixer bottles — painted by moderately soft colours, imagery-illustrated, with a beam of light apparently shining the labels (note the caps matching the labels in colour).

  • This playlist by DrinkSchweppes (YouTube) presents 16 exemplary TV commercials from the last 10-15 years and from different countries (mainly in Europe). They are mostly cheerful, humorous, with a punch or visual metaphor. This style does seem typical for Schweppes overall.     

Schweppes in Australia takes a somewhat different approach. Their labels usually combine a coloured title with a black background; yet the black area is ‘sparkled’ with white dots, reminiscing soda bubbles. On most bottles the label is positioned around a bottle’s neck. Consider for instance the classic sub-range called Classic Mixers (note the emphasis on using drinks as mixers, e.g., Argum Blood Orange, Dry Ginger Ale). The colour in the title area (like a “stamp”) is more mild and soft;  together with the yellow Schweppes banner they strike a delightful contrast against the black area, thus highlighting even more the coloured areas of the label with the drink’s descriptive name. The design layouts vary a little between drinks (e.g., Soda Water). In the sub-range of Premium Cordial, labels are longer and larger, and the colour illuminations over a dominant black background makes the design and drink feel more prestigious and special. Conversely, the drink bottles of the sub-range Flavours look as more casual soft drinks; the labels on most bottles are positioned at the body centre.

Particularly interesting is the sub-range Signature Series for the shape of its bottles. The bottle has a wide body, with rounded outlines but a flattened façade, and a long neck. The label is black with a delicate text illumination, positioned around the neck. Most text is white and only the drink name is in colour. There is also a special legacy carving on the bottle’s front (“Schweppes Since 1873”, the fountain, and the founder’s signature). All these elements of design deliver lucidly the premium, reserved status of this series of drinks (e.g., “Raspberry with a Twist of Brazilian Orange Essence”). The Signature bottle is apparently a restoration of a legacy bottle named Hamilton from 1809 (see timeline in Heritage).

The websites of Schweppes in Europe and in Australia are markedly different in their visual appearance compared with the website of Schweppes in Israel. The background of display in Europe and Australia is black vis-à-vis a white background in Israel. First, it endows the Schweppes brand and its drinks with a more upscale or lucrative image, which may better agree with a greater role of the soft drinks as mixers with alcoholic drinks, as in cocktails. Second, it creates a more dramatic contrast and better highlights the colours of the drinks and bottle labels. Israel is a warm Mediterranean country, thus the consumption of soft drinks for refreshing and cooling would seem in greater demand than using them as mixers. Hence, that aspect of the drinks of Schweppes commands less emphasis, but it is definitely not absent. On all three websites, visitors can find a special  section dedicated to suggestions for recipes with Schweppes’ drinks as mixers — they are rich with information and tempting photo images of cocktails and other alcoholic drinks.

  • Note: Interestingly, labels of some drink bottles in Israel do include a black background but for drinks that are not clearly perceived as mixers but rather as soft juice drinks. It does help to create a more dramatic contrast with soft colours and images of fruits, yet the use of black in this context is not quite coherent.

The brand of Schweppes presents delighting designs and displays of colours. The combinations and softer tones of colour work well for the drinks, as soft drinks for quenching thirst and refreshment yet also as mixers for evening cocktails. It is a bit disturbing, nevertheless, that designs lack alignment and consistency between the different locations where the brand is marketed (e.g., for distinguishing different types or primary uses of drinks). Are there agreed-upon rules or guidelines? Is it a matter of giving room for local adaptation to cultural differences in setting the selection of drinks offered and in visual designs or is it simply the result of absence of higher authority and a guiding hand? It would benefit the Schweppes brand greatly if communalities in representations of the brand were easier for consumers to identify and connect with, everywhere.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Feel Well. Keep Good Health.

Notes: 

[1] This brief on history is based on several sources, including stories as told on websites of Schweppes (e.g., Israel, Australia, also see this clip: “How 235 Years of Curiosity Taste”)

[2] For readers interested in more background, see for example: “The Decline of an Iconic British Brand”, a summary of case study at INSEAD Business School (2014).