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.

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.