by Michael Hill
Associated Press Writer
(AP)—Is President Barack Obama willing to risk Slurpee brainfreeze as he grapples with political gridlock?
A strange but real possibility.
The president’s campaign-trail attack on Republicans as Slurpee-sipping do-nothings boomeranged on him the day after the GOP won the House majority in last week’s midterm elections. He was asked if he would have likely House Speaker John Boehner over for the slushy 7-11 staple, and the White House meeting next week with Congressional leaders was jokingly dubbed the “Slurpee Summit.”
No word yet on whether the nation’s most powerful elected officials will actually be sipping Goji Berry Cherry Slurpees when discussing tax cuts on Nov. 18. But the Slurpee sellers at 7-11 are giddily taking advantage of the golden marketing opportunity with a “Slurpee Unity Tour” now zigzagging across the country to Washington.
The Slurpee is ready for its close-up, even if the president and Congress might not be.
“The more people that drink Slurpees, the happier we are,” said 7-11 spokeswoman Margaret Chabris. “Republicans, Democrats, independents, tea partiers, whoever.”
Discussion about this Slurpee Moment usually comes with tongues planted firmly in chilly cheeks, which makes sense. Though Slurpee’s place in the pop culture pantheon is secure, it’s not necessarily exalted. The drink, with its funny-sounding name and corner store pedigree, is more the stuff of punch lines than political discourse.
Slurpee got a name check in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” during an expletive-laced argument touching on ethnic stereotypes. More famously, slushy drinks are spoofed on “The Simpsons” as the “squishee,” sold by Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart as something to wash down sketchy hot dogs.
Pop-culture critic Chuck Klosterman says that image makes the Slurpee seem an odd fit for a political summit.
“The lack of seriousness comes from this premise of: Who do you imagine typically buying a Slurpee in a given circumstance?” said Klosterman, author of “Eating the Dinosaur.” “It’s sort of what a teenager buys with two corn dogs because they only have five dollars.”
Obama seems to have played on that perception on the stump before the midterm elections. Obama would liken the Democrats’ efforts on the economy to trying to get a car out of a ditch — with Republicans standing on the side fanning themselves and sipping a Slurpee.
The Slurpee-Obama connection was reinforced the day after Republicans retook the House on Nov. 2.
A reporter asked Obama whether he was going to have Boehner over for a Slurpee. Amused by the phrase “Slurpee Summit,” Obama replied, “I might serve … they’re delicious drinks.”
Just another milestone to Slurpee history.
The drink’s origins date to the late ‘50s, when a Kansas hamburger joint owner named Omar Knedlik served soft drinks from a freezer after his soda fountain broke down. Customers liked the slushy sodas and that led to the development of a special drink machine.
A 7-11 representative, who later noticed a machine making “Icees” in a Texas store, tested them in the convenience chain in 1965. They were a hit. The machines were widespread in 7-11 stores two years later when the company renamed the drink Slurpee. (The inspiration for the name is obvious to anyone who has ever sipped a Slurpee through a straw.)
7-11 claims that more than 6 billion Slurpee drinks have been sold during the past 45 years in a rainbow of flavors, from Fulla Bulla to Jolly Rancher and Bruisin’ Berry.
Still, it’s a longshot that the “Slurpee Summit” will go down in the history books as one of those momentous meetings with catchy nicknames like the “Kitchen Debate” between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959.
More likely, it will be seen as on par with Obama’s “beer summit” last year. That meeting at the White House among Obama, a Black Harvard scholar and the White police sergeant who arrested him after a confrontation featured Obama sipping Bud Light and his guests drinking other brands.
Still, the mere mention of “Slurpee Summit” was enough to prompt 7-11 executives to launch its multi-city “Unity Tour” from Dallas last week, complete with Slurpee trailers dispensing red, white and blue Slurpees, along with a special “Purple for the People” flavor.
7-11 offered to cater the summit and/or install Slurpee machines in the White House and for Congress. They have not heard back, but no matter. 7-11 will host its own summit in Washington that day, offering Slurpees for the masses.
“We simply had to act,” said Laura Gordon, senior brand director for Slurpee and the company’s other big-name drink, the Big Gulp. “So this is a great opportunity for the Slurpee brand, but I think this is a more important opportunity to make a broader statement, which is this is just about having a good time and bringing people together.”
It’s all in fun, though at least one branding expert thinks 7-11’s marketing efforts will have the staying power of a Slurpee left in the sun. Rob Frankel, author of “The Revenge of Brand X,” said there is just such a deluge of information out there it’s hard for something like this to catch on with the public.
“What are they going to do?” Frankel asked. “Are they going to dress up and look like John Boehner all of the sudden?”