Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dr. Pepper Ten: The Product is “Not for Women”, But the Commercials Are

No doubt, you’ve seen and heard about Dr. Pepper’s new soda, Dr. Pepper Ten, a low-calorie beverage that, unlike diet sodas, uses real sugar. And you’ve probably heard their commercials that feature manly men talking about action movies, duct tape, and bacon.

Mmmm, bacon…

Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes, the commercials. The purpose of the testosterone-infused advertising is in response to research showing that men are not interested in drinking diet sodas because they are perceived as being “girly” (find out more here). This soda was also developed to be a low-calorie option that didn’t taste like diet soda, because many people have issues with the taste of artificially sweetened beverages.

Word. There are few flavors in this world I dislike as much as artificial sweetener.

So in order to cater to men who want a diet beverage they can feel comfortable drinking with the guys, Dr. Pepper created Ten and created ads (likely spending millions of dollars on said ad campaign) that focus on men.

But they don't.

Listen to the ads. They’re always addressing women, without any statements toward men. Rather than saying, “Hey guys, want a beverage that recognizes your desire to be calorie conscious without all the estrogen? Try Dr. Pepper Ten.”, they start out the ads with, “Ladies…” and go on to explain to women why this beverage isn’t for them.

“Hey, ladies! This soda? Not for you…
 Wait, where are you going? I wasn’t finished explaining why this soda isn’t for you.”

Perhaps the aim is to remind guys of their days building clubhouses with their friends and putting up the “No girls allowed” sign (rather than a “Boys only” sign, which would have made a lot more sense). It’s also possible that the goal is to get women interested in trying the soda, because of the way people respond to being told not to do something. Specifically, they may be trying to elicit psychological reactance.

Humans are motivated to believe they have free will, as in control over their actions (whether you actually have free will – well, that’s something philosophers have been arguing about forever, so we won’t even go there right now). When someone tells you not to do something, your free will is threatened, and so you will behave in a way to reaffirm your sense of free will; the best way to do that is to do the thing you were just told not to do.

Parents are very familiar with this concept.

And I’ll admit, one thing that really drives me nuts is being told I am not allowed to do something or am even incapable of doing something (especially things that are learned) by virtue of my genitalia. Because apparently, the ability to change my oil, troubleshoot my computer, and hammer a nail are tied to the Y chromosome. “No point in teaching a woman to do any of those things. She’d never be able to learn it. So I’m going to avoid teaching her those things just to prove my point.” <sarcasm>Wow, your logic is infallible.</sarcasm… for now>

There’s a reason that social scientists insist on using the term “gender” in research. It’s not that we have an aversion to the word “sex”; it’s that we recognize “sex” is a biological term, whereas “gender” is a social term. Yes, because I am a woman, I have been shaped to behave in certain ways and believe certain things (and this perspective is also why I’m writing this blog entry and focusing on these issues). At the same time, I have my own unique set of traits, abilities, beliefs, and attitudes that were shaped by a variety of factors, not just the fact that I am a woman. The same is true for everyone; we were all shaped to be the way we are by our unique experiences, and throwing us all into one big category doesn’t make us all the same. Just like calling a calorie “manly” doesn’t make it so.

My point is that, perhaps they’re posting the “No Girls Allowed” sign while secretly hoping the girls will come around. And if that were my only reaction to Dr. Pepper Ten, I might just say, “What the heck, I’ll try it.”

After all, torque is a rather fascinating word.

There’s more to it than that, of course. Not only is Dr. Pepper Ten dragging out every gender stereotype possible, which has some documented effects on women’s performance in certain domains (see previous post), this issue of diet soda and gender has many more ramifications.

One of the reasons diet soda is so popular with women is because of our society’s focus on women’s bodies and the stigma associated with female overweight and obesity.

What stigma are men concerned about? Apparently, being seen drinking diet soda in public.

Forgive me if I’m not feeling too sympathetic, guys.

In all seriousness, I know that body image is also a serious concern for men, and have known more than one man who developed an eating disorder in response to pressures to look a certain way. Even so, women are constantly bombarded with messages to be thin, not just through the media, but in the fashion world overall. Clothing is often designed with thinner women in mind, and simply sized up to fit larger women; of course, the styles that look good on thinner women often differ from styles that look good on larger women, so this “sizing up” doesn’t necessarily allow women in larger sizes to look, and more importantly feel, good. And the messages come from our peers, too, even other women, who are often the worst offenders in making women feel bad about how they look.

I’d like to take a moment to thank those people who go out of their way to make me feel fat. At the very least, you’ve proven to me that being thin doesn’t make you happy or a good person.

And honestly, research has shown that no one really likes the word “diet”. In fact, some weight management programs are exploring new titles, like “wellness-focused”, and finding that people still have positive weight loss outcomes without needing to include words like “diet” and “weight”. Dr. Pepper Ten could probably still be a successful beverage because it doesn’t use words like diet, instead focusing on being a lower-calorie alternative that (presumably) tastes like a non-diet drink.

But at the end of the day, what Dr. Pepper Ten’s advertising makes me think of – besides, “Come on, aren’t we all smarter than this?” – is the Monty Python “Lumberjack” song, where the manly lumberjack suddenly discusses how much he enjoys wearing high heels and a bra. Yeah, the Dr. Pepper Ten commercials are just like that except, you know, not nearly as funny.

Men: I’m interested in hearing what you think about Ten, and what you think about an advertising campaign that is supposed to be all about you without actually addressing you directly. Does their need to preface words like “calories” with “manly” make any difference? Or do you find the commercials as idiotic and irritating as I?

Thoughtfully yours,

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