Dr. Pepper Ten: I Have to Wonder …

Debbie says:

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.

6 thoughts on “Dr. Pepper Ten: I Have to Wonder …

  1. All I can say is that they definitely won’t convince my husband to switch from Diet Coke to Dr Pepper Ten with their campaign. I drink Diet Dr Pepper, and he calls it diet prune juice and refuses to drink it. Not because it’s a “girly” drink, but because he can’t stand the taste of it. By the same token, when Coke came out with Coke Zero, which was supposed to be more “manly”, he tried it, didn’t like it, and went back to his supposedly “more for the women” Diet Coke. He’s been drinking Diet Coke for over 15 years, I really doubt that he’s worried about his masculinity being challenged over what he drinks.

  2. My partner told me about DP10 last week. We both laughed at the ridiculousness of the campaign but in all seriousness, it’s fucking bullshit on a number of levels. Thanks for writing this post!

  3. Agree completely on the asininity of this ad campaign.

    But I must point out that fruit juice *does* contain simple carbs — typically fructose, glucose, and sucrose, which are exactly the same sugars found in soda pop. Depending on the type, juice generally has at least as much sugar per volume as soda (though a typical juice serving is smaller than a typical soda serving). Juice may contain useful micronutrients, but its macronutrients are basically the same as soda.

  4. I’ve been drinking Diet Coke ever since the “New Coke” debacle of decades ago- the only Coke I still liked the taste of. My favorite candy bar treat is also the Three Musketeer bar, which in all the marketing seems to be aimed totally at women.
    I do not feel my testicles will shrivel up from drinking or eating any of the above. Amazing how many people do.

  5. I drink Coke Zero because when it’s warm I want something cold and caffeinated in the morning, and I don’t like iced tea or coffee. I like the taste and I won’t be drinking this because I hate Dr. Pepper. I like the idea of cutting calories where I can.

    Pat drinks Coke Zero because it’s what I buy and doesn’t seem to have suffered a loss of masculinity. I think he likes Dr Pepper but would not seek out this product.

    I agree about the idiocy of this campaign and wonder how it will do. There must be men who care enough about gender to buy it. You notice that light beer is marketed as “less filing”, not “low calorie.”

    I also agree with Janet that juice isn’t a diet drink. My understanding is that it’s not very healthy because it’s just sugar without fiber.

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