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Maker of red Solo cup says Toby Keith song sums it up ‘perfectly’


Updated: May 9, 2012 10:16AM

The Solo Cup Co. in Lake Forest celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, but the party is still proceeding, thanks to a thoroughly unexpected gift that keeps on giving: “Red Solo Cup.”

The novelty ditty devoted to the company’s iconic signature product currently is in the country music Top Ten. The video that started it all, which posted four months ago and went viral, has received nearly 12 million hits on YouTube, and the single that was never meant to be has been certified platinum.

Performed by Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup” is the ultimate party anthem for the ultimate party cup. The ridiculous lyrics (“I love you Red Solo Cup/I lift you up/Proceed to party”) and maddeningly catchy tune is the stuff of what the Taste of Country website calls “the earworm of the year — maybe the decade.”

Solo never saw it coming. “One of our employees saw a video of Toby Keith singing the song in concert,” CEO Bob Korzenski recalled. “The video circulated through the building pretty quickly. We didn’t know if it was real or if it was a joke.”

It was no joke. The song, which appears on Keith’s latest CD, “Clancy’s Tavern,” is the only one that Keith didn’t write. It was conceived about two years ago by songwriter Jim Beavers.

“Everywhere I went, at football games and parties, I saw people using them,” Beavers said in a phone interview. “It struck me it could be a song and I wrote down the title.”

When he and his brother Brett formed the Warren Beavers band with sibling songwriters Brett and Brad Warren, they recorded an EP to pitch songs around Nashville. One of them was “Felt Good on My Lips,” which became a No. 1 hit for Tim McGraw. Another was “Red Solo Cup,” recorded as an afterthought, Beavers said.

“I had never gotten such a reaction [to a song] from so many people,” he said, laughing. “I joked with the guys that I didn’t think anyone would have the guts to record it, but if they did, it would be huge.”

Keith heard the song and pronounced it “the stupidest song I ever heard in my life,” but according to Beavers, Keith said he couldn’t get it out of his head. “Thankfully for us and for the Solo Cup Co., he ended up recording it,” he said. “I know he had people trying to talk him out of it.”

Marci Braun, music director and on-air personality at Chicago country radio station WUSN-FM (99.5), first heard the song on Keith’s bus before his Tinley Park concert in August. “His manager played it for me,” she recalls. “He said, ‘We don’t know what this is, but it’s something.’ I thought it was awesome.”

The song’s official video was posted last October. “People began calling for the song,” Braun said. “It was a slow climb up the charts because there wasn’t a single, but there was such buzz about it that it [was released] and it started to climb a little more quickly.”

The song, Beavers said, was “lightning in a bottle, out of left field, and completely off the grid. It got pulled through the system instead of being pushed through the system.”

Why has “Red Solo Cup” resonated with listeners? Perhaps because the song taps into something primal: that the Red Solo Cup, introduced in the 1970s, is America’s cup, considered, as the song says, to be the “best receptacle for barbecues, tailgates, fairs and festivals,” not to mention college drinking games such as beer pong.

Though it comes in a myriad of colors (look for a green model this St. Patrick’s Day), none has had the cultural impact of the original red cup. “It’s an interesting phenomenon,” Korzenski said. “Sixty percent of consumers buy first on color. Our red cup was first to market, and once you’re first with something, that’s what causes the momentum to build.”

How has the song impacted sales? Officially, it’s too soon to tell. Thus far, the company has let the song work its marketing magic organically. The packaging makes no acknowledgement of the song, nor has it popped up in commercials.

This hasn’t stopped would-be marketers, as well as Solo board members and employees, from pitching their own ideas on how to capitalize on the song’s success. “It’s had a positive impact on morale,” Korzenski said.

Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming. “Red Solo Cup” was featured on “Glee.” The inevitable parodies have popped up on YouTube along with adorable videos of toddlers singing the song.

Despite lyrics about the cup cracking and some mild profanities, Korzenski said, “We’re happy the way it turned out. Our products are all about entertainment and having a good time. The song captures that perfectly.”

Donald Liebenson is a locally based free-lance writer.

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