The ABC’s of the Absolutely Baffling Campaign

Dr. Pepper’s marketing team really went over the top on their new Dr. Pepper 10 advertising campaign. Even though the company already has a diet soda (Diet Dr. Pepper), they decided to release a diet soda that would appeal towards men. Their research, as well as perceptions made by most (if not all) soda companies, indicated that men tended not to drink diet sodas because they are not deemed “manly” – whatever that means. They then introduced their new Dr. Pepper 10 and incorporated a campaign to force its “manly” appeal down audiences throats. They wanted to make sure that the message was very clear that this new diet soda is so bold and intense that “it’s not for women.” Period.

The commercial shows a ‘macho’ man in an action-packed scene – shooting laser guns & punching snakes. Throughout the commercial, the main character comments that women probably won’t be enjoying the commercial since it’s action based, just like the new Dr. Pepper 10. It has “ten manly calories” and wrapped in a “gunmetal gray” can that uses silver bullet holes in place of the standard bubbles found on the outside of the cans.

The campaign also incorporates a men-only Facebook page, where males users can view videos and play games that go along with the “manly” theme. One game in particular, involves shooting all the “girlie stuff” within a 23-second time limit.

When this campaign launched, it was immediately met with outcries of promoting sexism. On one hand, there is the most obvious example of sexism in the campaign, as it tells audiences in a straight-forward manner that the product is NOT FOR WOMEN. I can understand the motives of their campaign, I really can. Dr. Pepper wants to target the male demographic into drinking their diet soda; they also believe that society as a universal perception of diet sodas being somewhat “feminine,” because women are the ones who are more conscientious about their weight and calorie intake. However, the main issue is that Dr. Pepper is openly excluding over half of the American population through this campaign and resorts to using gender stereotypes to promote distinction between the targeted consumer and women.

Herein lies the greatest role sexism plays in the campaign – the reinforcement of gender roles and stereotypes. From the commercial, it is clear that Dr. Pepper is playing on the presupposed assumption that all women don’t enjoy action-based films and only enjoy romantic comedies and “lady drinks.” By the same token, women aren’t the only ones being subjected to these gender stereotypes. Men have openly expressed their distain for this campaign through the promotion of this overly-macho man and the need to disassociate themselves from any activity that might question their masculinity.

James Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for Dr. Pepper, insists that “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.” Sure people are talking about this campaign, but not in the way Trebilcock may have anticipated.

For those who are still questioning the validity of the sexist claims being made against this campaign, or believe that these allegations are being exaggerated, consider this: what if instead the tagline read “it’s not for African-Americans”? Certainly the media would be jumping all over such an audacious statement and the company would most likely be forced to pull the campaign for its racist message.

So why, then, should this sexist campaign still be allowed to run when it is equally discriminating towards our society?


The Bottom Line

Let me first start off by saying that this blog is just one small step at attempting to change a much larger and significant issue.

When I first starting thinking about what I intended to blog about, I knew immediately what issue I wanted to discuss. As an advertising and public relations student, I have been exposed to many tactics and techniques used within the industry. I also like to think that, over the course of my four years in the PR/A program at Chapman, I have developed a keen eye at identifying advertising that attracts attention, good or bad. What has always baffled, shocked, and appalled me in advertising (even before I became an advertising student) is the media’s portrayal of women. It’s not hard to find examples of this – just flip through any magazine or television channels and one is sure to come across an ad or commercial that reduces women to a stereotype, or even just a body part.

Image(Because women can’t handle the complexities of driving, of course)

Image(Where’s the product again?)

While the most obvious way to observe the way advertisers view women are through advertisements that use a woman’s sexuality to sell their product, another instance of sexism in the media has recently come to light. Recently, Dr. Pepper launched an ad campaign for their new diet soda, Dr. Pepper 10 (the commercial is available for viewing here). Since marketers realized they faced the hard task of selling a diet soda to men, they centered the entire campaign around the idea that the new diet soda should not be labeled as a ‘wussy, girlie’ drink like other diet sodas; instead, they deemed the new soda so manly that is “is not for women.”

On the surface, this commercial may not stand out in anyway to the average viewer. After all, there have been far worse instances of sexism in the past. But this way of thinking is a perfect example of just how desensitized sexism in the media has become in our society. This campaign reinforces gender stereotypes that our society has been trying to abolish for years. Its entire message rests on the assertion that women are too fragile and delicate to handle the ‘powerful’ taste of Dr. Pepper 10. Not only that, but the company is blatantly excluding its entire female consumer base.

It is for these reasons that I am asking Executive Vice President of Marketing for Dr. Pepper, James R. Trebilcock, to pull the commercial of the air and issue a formal apology for its sexist message.

I realize that it is nearly impossible to single-handedly change the entire media’s image on women completely; however, through this blog, I aim to highlight one particular example of sexism in advertising and the media and hope to raise awareness on just how prevalent this issue is in our society. If my blog can help take one sexist advertising campaign out of the mainstream media, it could help motivate more people to take a stand against this issue and introduce/expose more people to this issue.