In late 2011 Dr Pepper launched its new dietary brand of soda called Dr Pepper TEN. This low calorie version of the iconic soft drink was said to preserve the original’s classic twenty-three flavors while containing only ten calories. Though not explicitly stated on the can or in any advertisements, the product is a diet soda. Decidedly more unambiguous was that men were the targeted end-user of the product. To quell alleged stereotypes about American men, which suggested that they cared little about their appearance, and to act upon internal research that revealed men were apprehensive about being seen drinking diet sodas, Dr Pepper created a new campaign for the soda directed toward men by introducing the slogan: “It’s not for women.” There was nothing subtle about either the slogan or the commercial. They were both developed to create controversy and chatter, but were cloaked in humor that was too over-the-top to be taken seriously. Although seemingly aimed to be offensive to women, men had more justifiable reasons to be insulted. Regardless of which gender stereotypes were more lampooned, the commercial turned out to be a provocative piece of advertising, which was likely a key goal of the company and its advertising agency.
The futuristic lasers zing through a dark dense jungle setting at the opening of Dr Pepper’s television advertisement for Dr Pepper TEN. Myriad explosions ignite randomly as a man wielding a ray gun races through the bush while being fired at from multiple angles. Fearless, the man addresses the camera: “Hey ladies!” he says with a condescending smile, “enjoying the film?” Making it crystal clear that the question was rhetorical, he answers it after pausing to kill an evil robotic snake with a snap of his hand: “Of course not!” he confidently proclaims. Continuing to run while under fire, he yells, “because this is our movie!” and then jumps off of a cliff landing perfectly in a rugged jeep. Driving away, the man states “and Dr Pepper TEN is our soda!” Safe for the moment, the man more calmly describes that the soda has only ten “manly calories” while retaining “all twenty-three of Dr Pepper’s favors.” Struggling to pour himself a glass of Dr Pepper TEN on the bumpy jungle road, the protagonist suddenly ditches the can behind his back, which triggers a trap that injures his final three pursuers. As the car comes to a skidding halt, he imparts his final message to his female audience: “So you can keep the romantic comedies and lady drinks; we’re good.” As he speeds off, a voice announces, “Dr Pepper TEN, It’s not for women!”
The Dr Pepper TEN commercial operates under a couple of societal assumptions constructed through the lens of a stereotypical American man in an over the top, tongue-in-cheek style. Although the commercial formally addresses women from the first spoken words “Hey ladies!” to the last message that “It’s not for women,” the product itself is clearly targeted towards men. This is accomplished by playing on two common male behaviors as referenced in Freeman and Merskin’s article “Having it His Way,” which discusses masculinity in fast-food television advertising. The commercial employs the masculine stereotype of men having a “propensity towards violence and danger” that is “exciting” (460). This is seen throughout the commercial leading up to when the main character tosses an empty can that sets off a trap disabling his final three pursuers. Just as plainly represented is the “danger as fun” behavior; from the moment the man in the commercial first speaks, it is obvious that he is having a blast. By answering in the negative to his own question of whether the women he is addressing are enjoying the film, he is implying that only men would find such bedlam entertaining and fun.
Upon first examination of this advertisement one is tempted to make a judgment, based on more stereotypical views of modern advertising, that only conventional male typecasts are being depicted and women are simultaneously being discredited and insulted. After all, the protagonist makes a direct implication that women would like neither the soda nor the type of movie being represented, and an indirect implication that women lack both the courage and the ability to have fun. This stereotype is reinforced by the fact that only men are featured in the commercial and that they all embody the masculinity consistent with the 1970 study referenced in “Having it His Way.” This study concluded that men are made out to be more self-ruling than women in advertisements, more dominating in their occupations, and greater voices of authority in the public sphere. In addition, the commercial appears to take these gender stereotypes a step further by insultingly discrediting things that are associated with women (e.g. “romantic comedies” and “lady drinks”) and then signing off with the obnoxious slogan “It’s not for women.”
Upon further and closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that the ad was actually spoofing men in equal if not greater measure. The so called “film” that the man asked the ladies if they were enjoying is an embarrassing encapsulation of bad clichés found in the worst movies targeted towards men: red eyed evil snakes; laser shots improbably missing their target; an impossible leap from a cliff into the passenger seat of a truck; and putting an end to the threat of three potential assassins with a simple toss of an empty soda can. Further, the ad makes the main character seem bumbling in his attempts to pour the contents of the featured product into a glass and losing most of the soda he is promoting in the process. Even the voice of the man with its husky and sarcastic qualities makes it all too transparent that our protagonist embodies the disturbing values of hetero-normative culture.
This was the brilliance of the advertisement. Its script appears initially to degrade women thus justifying Freeman and Merskin’s conclusion that the objectification of women used in many ads “may in fact be a backlash against the empowerment American women have achieved in the centuries’ old struggle for women’s rights” (473). But as the ad rolls on, women surely get the last laugh. Not only does the commercial justifiably make fun of typical men’s cherished movies, but it also portrays men as shallow simpletons who are not secure enough to purchase diet sodas and cannot even enjoy the very product they claim is “not for women” because they are too clumsy to pour it accurately into a glass. The message to women is that apparently, Dr. Pepper TEN is not for men either.
Deutsch, the advertising agency that created the campaign for Dr Pepper TEN, lists in its beliefs that “people don’t look for ads. They look for authentic content that entertains and educates in quick doses…Everything has to be entertaining or useful – or both” (Deutsch). In creating the Dr Pepper TEN ad, and more specifically the slogan, Deutsch not only provided an entertaining commercial, but also one that was guaranteed to get people talking. By initially appearing to head boldly and immediately down the well-trod path of so many other advertisements that degrade women, they were guaranteeing a spirited reaction that would raise awareness of the product for their client. But they cleverly allow the commercial to evolve into a very transparent spoof that makes fun of the gender stereotypes of both men and women with the weight tipped toward the former. In the playful and humorous process, they encourage both sexes to try the new product; women because “it’s not for women” and men because “it’s not for women.” In the apparent smokescreen, a memorable good-natured ad was created to raise awareness—for men and women alike—that one can now enjoy the taste of a Diet Dr Pepper without worrying about societal gender norms. The company naturally took risks that there would be a segment of the population who might miss the ad’s subtlety and purpose and instead take away the more conventional negative message that Freeman and Merskin discuss in “Having It His Way.” But they greatly mitigated this risk by carefully choosing the stereotypical behaviors to make fun of (a love of romantic comedies and drinks that men do not typically), going after men’s behaviors harder than women’s, and undertaking it all in a clearly fun-loving manner.
“Beliefs.” Duetsch Inc. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.
Dr Pepper TEN Action Commercial. Advertisement. YouTube. 12 Oct. 2014. Web.
Freeman, Carrie Packwood, and Debra Merskin. “Having It His Way: The Construction of Masculinity in Fast Food TV Advertisements” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. Eds. Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. 454-79. Print.