An Open Letter to James R. Trebilcock

Dear James R. Trebilcock,

By now, I’m sure you’re well aware that your Dr. Pepper 10 campaign has failed. While trying to market a diet soda to men, you have not only completely isolated women completely from the product, but you have also made a bold statement about how men should be. While being overtly sexist and excluding women in your so-called “tongue-in-cheek” tagline, you are also reinforcing gender stereotypes throughout your campaign. According to your ad, all men should embody the “machismo” persona that appears in the commercial. You also offer a men-only Facebook page, where users can “shoot all the girly things” and unite over activities that “prove” masculinity. You even incorporate such quality sayings like “This shooting gallery is no place for a woman like you” and “What, are you a woman?” to users who don’t score as high in the shooting game you offer.

Don’t you understand the bigger picture of your campaign? Not only are you alluding that ALL women behave in the same way in that they only watch romantic comedies and “lady drinks” and can’t handle the “bold” taste of the new Dr. Pepper 10, but you are also telling the American public what constitutes being a man. What happens to those who are not like the “manly-man” that you portray in your campaign? Are they not allowed to drink this uber-masculine drink as well?

With all the public outrage this campaign has faced since its launch, along with the hard evidence that both men and women have generated negative feedback about the company after the campaign launched, don’t you think it’s time to end it? Mr. Trebilcock, I strongly urge you to read this blog and critically contemplate the issues I have raised. Advertising does not have to resort to sexism in order to sell its product. Not only that, but it proves to have such a strong influence on the public and their views towards gender stereotypes. Therefore, I ask you to end your campaign, remove the ads from the media, and apologize for promoting a sexist message.

Sincerely,

Casey McAdams

Effects of Sexist Advertising

While the media continues to promote gender stereotypes, its effects can be seen throughout our society. Children are taught at a young age how they should behave, what activities they should participate in, etc. Those that don’t abide by these societal rules and norms are treated as outcasts by their peers and are often shunned and bullied because of their differences.

It is completely unfair for the media to not only group people into the two distinct categories of MEN and WOMEN but to also assign attributes that make up each gender. Where does the LBQT community fit into these two categories? Recently, there have been an increased rate of teen suicides as a result of bullying among adolescents. Children that are homosexual, or identify themselves in a way that goes against their gender stereotypes, face extreme harassment from others. A recent example of the effects of gender bullying occurred in September when 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide after being harassed and bullied at school and online for his sexuality.

Jamey’s mother spoke out following his death:

“So he hung around with the girls a lot, so then the teasing started happening like ‘Oh you’re such a girl or you’re gay or whatever and that bothered him for many years.”

Children like Jamey are constantly faced with gender-based harassment either because of their sexuality or their nonconformity towards gender stereotypes. And where do these children learn these stereotypes? From advertising campaigns like Dr. Pepper 10, which quite obviously portrays how a “manly-man” should act and those who don’t meet this criteria are therefore “less manly” and are shamed by others.

It is up to us to stand up and take a stand and pressure the media to STOP enforcing gender stereotypes, which only leads to discrimination among our society. It all starts with one small step, which is why I urge everyone to sign the petition to stop the sexist Dr. Pepper 10 campaign and send a message to the media by showing that we do NOT want them to continue promoting gender stereotypes and sexism in our society.

Why Is This Campaign Still Running?!

James Trebilcock has stood by this campaign since its launch on October 10th. He even has issued statements when confronted about the campaign’s sexist message, claiming that women shouldn’t be offended – after all, during the testing stage where the marketing was tested in six different markets throughout the country, the women weren’t offended:

“Women get the joke…’Is this really for men or really for women?’ is a way to start the conversation that can spread and get people engaged in the product.” (source)

But after a simple google search, it is easy to see that a lot of people (not just women) are offended and outraged by this campaign. Most of the search results either direct towards blogs or news websites expressing their disapproval of this ad. Surely someone at the Dr. Pepper corporation has taken the time to google their new product and have seen the public’s reaction, and yet no further statements have been issued and the campaign continues to run. Maybe corporate believes this is just the viewpoint of the minority and that while they continue to voice their discontent in the campaign, Dr. Pepper continues to flourish in sales and popularity.

Wrong.

YouGov’s BrandIndex has reported that the campaign, intended to increase popularity and usage among males 18+, has backfired and has actually created increased feedback among both men and women.

According to the YouGov’s BrandIndex website:

“Dr. Pepper was measured with YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz score, which asks respondents: “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?”

A score can range from 100 to -100 and is compiled by subtracting negative feedback from positive. A zero score means equal positive and negative feedback.

For men, Dr. Pepper’s buzz score went from 21. 5 on the day the campaign broke to 16.4, clearly losing a bit of altitude for the intended gender.

However, for women in the same period, the score started at a higher point – 32.9 – and has now sunk to 18.4, losing nearly half its score.”

So now it is very clear that not only are both men and women offended by this campaign but this is also the popular opinion among all consumers. Since the campaign launched, Dr. Pepper popularity has dropped among both genders – so then why is this campaign still running?!

Gender Roles Represented in the Media

I think it is important to identify what exactly qualifies as sexism in order to more fully understand why I classify the Dr. Pepper 10 ad campaign as sexist. Sexism is defined in the dictionary as:

attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.

This very basic, yet enlightening definition sheds some light on the trends of advertisements that have been in place for decades. For example, why is it that cleaning supply products are more often advertised showing women using these products? By the same token, why are most beer commercials centered around men? The answer for both questions is because advertisements like these promote and reinforce the stereotyped gender roles of our society. In the most simple term, women are expected to be the ones that clean while men are primarily the beer drinkers of society.

As mentioned in a previous post, the Dr. Pepper 10 ad campaign is sexist towards both men and women. Sexism in the media has a long been a prevalent problem in the feminist cause of gender equality but it also has a much more serious problem for our society. Campaigns like Dr. Pepper 10 promote how each gender should look/act/behave and these ideals are internalized by its audience. They are being taught what is acceptable and expected characteristics and behaviors for their gender and anything/anyone that differs from these stereotyped “norms” are different.

Two different documentaries have been made to show just how influential a role the media plays in defining what is “masculine” and “feminine” and how destructive these messages are to an individual. The first documentary is one in a series that is continually updated to highlight recent advertisements that are damaging to a woman’s psyche.

While Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women mostly discusses the issue of the media’s portrayal of beauty standards, it does reinforce the message of the media’s influence on women – showing and telling women how they should look and behave and driving many towards dangerous actions in order to achieve these standards imposed by advertisers.

Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity shows the other perspective of sexism in the media and its impact on the male psyche. It shows how and where men learn what constitutes “being a man” and how masculinity is defined. The video also brings up an interesting and revealing connection between the social construction of masculinity and violence – violence not only involving women, but also other men.

I highly recommend watching these clips of the documentaries and reexamining the sexist messages being presented through the Dr. Pepper 10 campaign. Our society has become so desensitized to destructive, stereotypical, and discriminating ideas and messages that many people aren’t even aware of the media’s constant influence on our psyche. These documentaries (as well as countless others) allow us to observe these messages with new insights and understandings and hopefully open our eyes to the damaging effects these campaigns have on our society.

(You can view the entire Killing Us Softly 4 documentary part 1 here and part 2 here)

(You can view the entire Tough Guise documentary here)

Dr. Pepper’s Sexism: It’s Not (JUST) For Women

Ever since the Dr. Pepper 10 commercial aired, it has met criticism from the blogging world. Many people have felt so passionate about this subject that they have taken to their keyboards and written letters and posts of disgust and outrage to James Trebilcock and the Dr. Pepper 10 marketing team.

One of the most powerful responses to this campaign I found while researching more on this topic comes from a non-profit organization called The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project). You can read the open letter to James Trebilcock here but I will highlight some of the major points the author, Emily Breitkopf, raises in her arguement:

“The campaign is overtly sexist, homogenizing women’s identities into the most stereotypical gender role possible and actively discriminating against it. There’s no denying this.”

This is the overall topic/issue that drew me towards writing this blog. The message that this campaign promotes is ‘in-your-face’ sexist. And while initially I planned on focusing on how discriminating this ad is towards women, Breitkopf raises a valid new viewpoint on the reach of this ad’s sexism. This campaign is overtly sexist towards women and their gender stereotypes, true, but it also works on a deeper level to infer what a “manly-man” should/shouldn’t be:

“In both your commercial and your Facebook app, I read the following phrases: ‘What, are you a woman?’ ‘Lose your skirt and step your game up,’ ‘You’ve got 23 seconds to take out all the girly stuff,’ ‘If it’s girly, shoot it’ and ‘This shooting gallery is no place for a woman like you.’”

These messages the campaign are promoting are both damaging and influential towards the men and young boys that are receiving them either through the commercial itself or in the various activities on the soda’s “men-only” Facebook page. It instills in them the alleged attributes, traits, and characteristics that make up a man and define one’s masculinity and men who do not match this criteria are left feeling less masculine. By promoting the ideas of what characteristics make up each gender, those who don’t meet all of the stereotyped gender traits are left feeling inadequate and are often harassed by others (an issue I will discuss further in a later blog post).

Ultimately, this campaign is sexist to both genders in different ways – promoting and projecting gender stereotypes to both men and women reduces our society into two distinct groups and gender roles and those that don’t fall into these two categories are left feeling ostracized and oppressed.

Sex Sells or Selling Sex?

Why is it nowadays that in order to sell a product, advertisements must have almost-naked, over-sexualized women often performing actions irrelevant towards the actual product? When I think of advertisements that fit this description, my mind immediately turns to the Carls Jr. commercials:

Seriously? What does Paris Hilton wearing a skimpy little outfit and seductively washing a car have ANYTHING to do with a burger?

Advertisements have been using this go-to approach to selling a product for years. Not only is it degrading to women, but it also shows and influences women to behave in similar ways in order to be sexy and appeal to men.

While this tactic is not used in the Dr. Pepper 10 commercial, it highlights another form of sexism that is so prevalent in our media. The idea that “sex sells” has gone too far and it’s brings up the idea that advertisers today have taken that phrase to a new level and are now selling sex.

Past Prejudices Evolve Into Present Promotions

I know that the premise of this blog is primarily based around Dr. Pepper 10′s advertising campaign and it’s sexist message. However, I believe it is important to recognize and address the numerous past examples of sexism within the media.

It should come to know surprise that advertisers play off of stereotypes and generalizations in order to sell a product. Part of being in advertising is establishing and identifying the target audiences/key publics that would most likely buy the advertised product/image and promote accordingly. However, there is an important difference between advertising with a specific audience in mind, and discriminating against another by using various forms of discrimination.

In much earlier times, before people began to speak out against advertisers use of obvious forms of “-isms,” advertisements incorporated blatant forms of sexism, racism, etc. in order to more closely identify with their targeted audiences. And so I present to you a collection of vintage prejudice at its finest:

My only question is, while the copy presented in these ads may have become more sensitized for the mass media in modern times, why are the images and themes involved still found in modern advertising? Modern advertisements may not be as straight-forward in their messages like depicted above, but they still play on the stereotypical gender roles that those examples show. Women are continually shown to be subservient, fragile, and delicate, whose sole purpose is predominantly housework and/or to sexually appeal towards men. While society may think that we have progressed from the sexist viewpoints of years past, a closer observation and analyzation of current advertisements shows otherwise.