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.

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.

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.