Archivist Justine Fletcher got more than she bargained for, when a trip to London took her on a 200-hundred-year (and then some) journey through the history of Schweppes, one of Coca-Cola GB's oldest brands. Find out how the tonic came to be, and what ‘Schweppshire’, ‘Schweppsylvania’ and ‘Schweppervescence’ really mean...
This summer I travelled to the UK to help out with their Coca-Cola Collectors Fair, where I’d hoped to spend some of my free time visiting the countryside town of Schweppshire. If you’re a fan of Schweppes, you’ll know that this is a location which features in some of their old adverts.
But despite consulting almost every travel guide, website and blog on the internet, including Google Maps, no postcode could be found. When I questioned my colleagues in the London office, who looked a little bemused, they told me they’d never heard of such a place.
After a little investigating, and finding a flat file of Schweppes advertising materials in the archives, it turned out that Schweppshire was a “make believe” county imagined for an ad campaign in the 1950s. As I read through the humorous ads, I was surprised that the product was never shown, and that along the bottom of the ad was the tagline, “Schweppervescence lasts the whole drink through”.
The tone and feeling of the ads were never mean-spirited, but had a good dose of British humour and a great sense of nostalgia. I decided to continue my investigation and find out how the advertising team came up with the fictional town of Schweppshire, and more importantly, what they meant by “Schweppervescence”.
1783: The birth of a brand
Schweppes was born in 1783 under the guidance of Jacob Schweppes when he discovered a way to manufacture carbonated mineral water. Schweppes soon expanded the business from Geneva to England where consumers used the drink to settle upset stomachs and other ailments of the time.
Fast forward 87 years and Schweppes Tonic water became available in the 1870s. Throughout the years, Schweppes was never a stranger to advertising as their promotions consisted of newspaper advertising and even lit up Piccadilly Circus with a moving neon sign.
Unfortunately, the brand disappeared from the shelves, but not from advertising, as England entered the Second World War in 1939. The war made the production of Schweppes impossible, but consumers were assured that Schweppes would soon return when it ended. Advertising without a product would seem counterproductive, but the print ads stressed that Schweppes would one day return and with it the normalcy of pre-war life.
By 1945, the war had ended, but Schweppes Tonic water was still not available. Nevertheless, under the guidance of the S.T.Garland advertising agency, the tagline, “What you need is Schweppervescence” was created to continue promoting the brand.
The public first saw the word as it hung on banners at railway stations for the Victory Parade held on 8th June 1946 in London. Within two years, the popular drink was back on the shelves, and Schweppervescence finally meant something to everyone.
“Schweppervescence” made consumers feel optimistic and gave Schweppes instant recognition in the market place. It also gave the brand a talking point, playing on the drink’s bubbly effervescence (Fact: the famous advertising tagline ‘Schhh… Schweppes’ was created to evoke the sound of the gas escaping as a bottle is opened). The word became so important to the brand, that when the account moved to another agency, Garland was paid so Schweppes could continue using Schweppervescence.
1951: Schweppshire county
When the Bloxham agency took over the Schweppes advertising in 1951, there were only few rules established for the advertising. It should be unique, it had to entertain, and the ads needed to invoke a love for Schweppes and all its products. Soon, Schweppshire was born.
Schweppshire was drawn as a fanciful county in Great Britain with its own language, cast of characters and coat of arms without once showing the product, but rather running the tag line, “Schweppervescence lasts the whole drink through” along the bottom of the ad.
For 14 years, Stephen Potter wrote the copy and George Him brought the imaginary county to life through his drawings. The public came to know the inhabitants of Schweppshire, as Potter and Him released six new ads every year.
The Schweppshire ads painted a picture of quintessential British humour that enlightened and delighted viewers, even across the pond. From the county Crest that included a lion wearing a bowler hat and holding an umbrella to Christmas Schwepping on Oxford Street, the iconic advertisements will live long in the memory.
Not to be content in England a spinoff appeared named, Schweppsylvania, which introduced British readers to life in the 49th state of America. They were just as humorous, and poked Potter poked fun at all things American - from the nation’s love affair with cars to the “bigness” of the country.
So, that’s what I found in the flat files, and with the information in the book by Doulas A. Simmons, Schweppes: The First 200 Years. I can’t help but feel a little sad that I won’t be visiting Schweppshire anytime soon, but I did experience some Schweppervescence while in London. Because, after all, “it lasts the whole drink through”.