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?!

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.

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.