July 1, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
Last weekend, I went shopping at the grocery store, and they had a special sale on one gallon bottles of fresh lemonade. I picked up two bottles and brought them home. They were very heavy. After we drank the first bottle, my wife noticed a “return to store for deposit notice” on the bottle. I had not seen a notice like that in many years. But it brought back fond memories of my childhood in Cicero. There were several bottling companies in and around Cicero back then. Pilsen Park had a brewery where a Bohemian Beer called Yusay was made. Since my family immigrated to this country from Prague, my grandfather would go to the brewery and buy cases of genuine Bohemian Pilsen beer each week. To my experience, Bohemians don’t drink soda, wine, milk or water – they drink beer. So my grandfather would shuttle cases of full bottles of Yusay home and return them empty directly to the brewery before each weekend. I still have beer glasses at home that the Yusay Brewery made for taverns.
But, many other beverages were bottled in glass in the Chicago area. Bowman Milk, Dad’s Root Beer, and Green River just to name a few. There was a small bottling company a block away from my house that made specialty sodas in short little glass bottles in flavors the national manufacturers didn’t make. Their choices included lemon, lime, black raspberry, cherry, vanilla, cream soda, and punch. But this story is about a fruit juice bottler in Cicero. They had a home delivery service, and they would leave a fresh gallon of fruit juice in a glass bottle on our doorstep once a week. The company was called Home Life, and they had flavors of fruit juice no one else had. I looked forward to trying new flavors each week. Unfortunately, it was expensive and at one point there was no room in the family budget to buy it any longer. But, I never forgot the company’s product because it was so good.
Many years later after Cerny/American established itself as a national producer of innovative radio commercials, a small agency approached us to do radio advertising for a fruit juice manufacturer. The company was going through a rebranding and repackaging of their entire product line. It turned out the company was the one that left fruit juice on my doorstep as a kid. The company had grown and their new products excited me just like their old ones did. The bottling and packaging was very attractive and colorful. And before I started writing their commercials, I tasted their new product line, and it was really great. The line of fruit juices was called Boku Fruit Juice Coolers. My favorite was Boku Watermelon Fruit Juice Cooler. When I am excited about a product and believe in it, it really stimulates my creative juices (no pun intended). The ad campaign was very sensual, and the radio campaign needed to reflect that. To promote the new watermelon flavor, I created a very unusual jingle that was a very primal tribal chant with singers backed up island drums and other percussion instruments that involved in a ceremonial picking of watermelons at their height of perfection, and then crushing them and sacrificing them to make the best tasting fruit juice cooler ever. The lyrics were very tongue in cheek and the jingle stuck in consumer’s heads. As a result the product instantly flew off the shelf.
I remember going into the White Hen Pantry across the street from my studio to see if they had Boku. The first week the watermelon commercial aired, there was a small area for the glass bottles of Boku. But each successive week the radio commercial played, Boku got more and more space in the fruit juice case. The sales figures far exceeded the company’s expectations for the demand. All the flavors were selling, but people couldn’t get enough of Boku Watermelon Fruit Juice Cooler in the month of July. But then something unprecedented happened. Boku sold so much Watermelon Fruit Juice Cooler that no more watermelon was available anywhere in the world to make the product. I think that caught everyone by surprise. How many companies complain about selling too much of their product? In the end it was a question of supply and demand. There was a finite supply of watermelon in the world and we sold it all.
So, I felt some sadness when I bought two glass returnable bottles of lemonade from the grocery store last weekend. It stirred some good memories, but it also stirred some bad ones. And that is why I decided to leave the fresh watermelons behind for other consumers to enjoy because I will always feel guilty about nearly making the watermelon an endangered species.