Dr Pepper’s ‘not for women’ ad: Clever or offensive?

The soft-drink maker’s new ad fails to be polarizing and intelligent at the same time, argues this PR pro.

Hello there. You look a little parched. Could you use some refreshment? How about a Dr Pepper Ten to cool you down?

Oh wait, sorry ladies. You’ll need to go powder your nose or re-vacuum the stairs. This extreme beverage is only for men—no women allowed. I know because it says so right in the advertisement.

As you might imagine, the angle Dr Pepper chose for the 10-calorie diet soda drink has ruffled quite a few feathers. OK, it’s ruffled a lot of feathers.

Like those of my co-worker who angrily forwarded the video to everyone in the office, or Steve Hall who explained why we can’t swallow the joke. Or the AP, Village Voice, and the women leaving snarky comments all over the Dr Pepper Facebook page.

It’s kind of a mess.

If Dr Pepper intended the ad campaign to get its 15 minutes of Internet fame, it certainly worked. But if Dr Pepper was trying to be clever or segment its market in any sort of intelligent way, it failed. And not because the ad is anti women.

Why Dr Pepper failed

Dr Pepper failed the same way so many brands do when they get online:

  • They try to be edgy and were just sad.
  • They try to be polarizing and were just silly.

If anything, the ad is more offensive to men than it is to women.

If there’s one thing I wish brands could learn, it’s that you can be polarizing and still be intelligent. You can be clever without pandering to the lowest common denominator of men-or women. You can be edgy without being an idiot.

When you dumb down your marketing, you not only embarrass yourself, but your entire audience.

That’s what I see happening with the ad for Dr Pepper Ten. As a woman, I’m not offended that the soda company is saying I can’t play. I’m offended by how badly they are doing it.

Men shooting lasers in the woods, riding ATVs, and making fun of women for watching chick flicks?

Really? That’s the best manly content you’ve got?

What brands should do

This isn’t uncommon. We saw a similar mess with Groupon earlier this year. It tried to be funny and polarizing, but ended up begging for forgiveness with its tail between its legs when it couldn’t take the heat.

Being edgy/polarizing/remarkable without falling off the stupid cliff requires two things:

  1. A true understanding of your audience
  2. A backbone

It’s rare to find a big brand that has both.

When I think of brands who understand how to be polarizing and intelligent at the same time, I think of Matt Inman, Erika Napoletano and Peter Shankman.

They polarize people by making intelligent arguments that speak to a common problem, experience or villain, and strongly push people toward a certain belief. You won’t find any of them dumbing things down for their audiences, or running through a forest with lasers.

Well, that’s not true. You might find Matt Inman in a forest shooting giant cats with lasers, but I digress.

Outspoken Media is also known for doing some pushing. Whether we’re outing brand jacking, calling out Google, mooting your excuses, or getting everyone worked up over the topic of the day, we know how to play off people’s emotions to get them riled up. As a marketer, I’d argue that you have to. It’s healthy.

There’s nothing wrong with being edgy or purposely polarizing your audience at times. There’s nothing wrong with Dr Pepper going after a male audience and poking fun at us females. But there is something wrong with insulting everyone’s intelligence to do so. For me, that’s where Dr Pepper went wrong.

I also found it interesting that Jim Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for Dr Pepper, noted he wasn’t worried that the ad wouldn’t offend women. He said that “women get the joke” and that their macho stance was “a way to start the conversation that can spread and get people engaged in the product.”

Jim, no one is engaged with your product right now. People are engaged with telling you how dumb you are. And when they forget all about this by next week, you won’t even have that.

In your attempt to be memorable, you actually became forgettable. That’s offensive.

Lisa Barone is the Chief Branding Officer of Outspoken Media. She’s also very active on Twitter, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

Topics: PR


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