The new “Dr. Pepper Ten” is a diet soda for men. This seemingly simple sentence raises a few questions:
Maybe it’s a little late in Western cultural history to question the concept of diet sodas, but I still do. If you want a low-calorie beverage, why not drink water? Or flavored water? Or flavored fizzy water? Or iced tea? If you want sweet taste without simple carbs, why not drink juice? None of those are packaged as “diet” drinks, and just the idea of a diet drink makes a lot of people feel good. I know lots of people who drink diet sodas because that’s what they like, without a weight-loss goal. I support that, of course. I have to wonder, though, what they would drink if the diet soda had never been invented, or popularized.
The idea of a drink for men is nothing new either. As we all know from the commercials, beer is for men, unless a particular beer happens to be for women. Wine is for women, or men who want to impress women, or sometimes rich men even if there are no women around. I have to wonder how those distinctions came about and who profits from them.
Dieting, until about 15-20 years ago, was mostly for women, so diet drinks were, by definition, for women. But capitalism requires an ongoing search for new consumers, so a lot of energy has been put into getting men to diet, or pretend to diet, or look like they’re dieting, and diet sodas are a great way to do that. So in this period, diet soda has become (in the commercials at least) one of those rare things that men and women can both enjoy without jeopardizing their status as real members of their genders.
But not now. Now we have Dr. Pepper Ten, which isn’t subtle. The product’s tagline is “It’s Not For Women.” There’s almost nothing about it on Dr. Pepper’s home page, but Lisa McTigue Pierce at Packaging Digest says:
Dr Pepper TEN will feature a distinctly masculine package design, complete with a gunmetal gray color scheme, industrial rivets and bold new font.
Consumer feedback and research showed that many men between the ages of 25 and 34 are not completely satisfied with the taste or image of diet sodas—although they understand the need to make healthier beverage choices.
The national launch of Dr Pepper TEN will be supported by an integrated marketing campaign, extending the “It’s Not for Women” theme through national television, print and online media. Consumers will also see a new, provocative social media campaign—including a bold Dr Pepper TEN Facebook application that only men can access.
As a trans ally, I have to wonder how they’re defining and identifying men for this application. I also have to wonder how it can possibly be legal. And how many women have worked on the creation, design, and marketing of the product.
When I first saw Aphra Behn’s open letter about this on Shakesville (quoted below), I couldn’t believe the marketing vice president’s name. I thought the whole thing might be an elaborate joke. But it’s not. Here’s Christopher Heine writing at ClickZ:
Speaking with The Associated Press, Jim Trebilcock, EVP of marketing for Dr. Pepper, downplayed anger at the campaign. The drink and advertising were trialed in six U.S. markets before being rolled out nationwide, he said, and women weren’t offended. Trebilcock told the AP that 40 percent of consumers who have tried the soda so far were females.
“Women get the joke,” he said to the wire service. “‘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.”
Trebilcock? Really? I have to wonder what childhood traumas around his name affect his marketing choices.
As mentioned above, Aphra Behn hits a huge number of high spots in her letter to Dr. Pepper/Snapple. Here are just a few, but please read the whole thing:
One: Do you think that emphatically declaring the product off-limits to women is the fastest way to get women “engaged in the product”?
I know that emphasizing men’s inherent superiority and declaring certain things off-limits to women has in the past actually encouraged women to “get engaged” with things like literacy, voting, wages, and the right to their own bodily autonomy. But it usually takes a long time before women actually enjoy those off-limits things—we’re talking centuries, here. Is that a normal advertising cycle in business, or are you more hoping lots of people will buy this in the next month?
Two: Does your product need a boost in the key misogynist asshole demographic, and if so, is labeling that entire demographic “men” really wise?
Four: Did someone in your advertising team tell you this campaign was hip, edgy, or original?
If so, I think you should pay closer attention to the grades your clever marketing minds got in their history classes. An obsessive fear of women and the feminine (and the need to establish masculine superiority by denigrating the same) isn’t new, nor fresh, nor original. In fact, it rather made me wonder if you were planning to re-release the entire campaign in dactylic hexameter, because it would appeal so well to the key dead Homeric Greek dude demographic.
I have to wonder if Aphra Behn could possibly be that funny without Jim Trebilcock’s help, and the help of his clever marketing minds.