Well, hello there. You look a little parched, like you could use some refreshment perhaps? How about a Dr. Pepper Ten to cool you down? Oh wait – sorry ladies, you’ll need to go powder your nose or go re-vacuum the stairs. This extreme beverage is only for men – no women allowed. I know because it says so right in the advertisement.

See?

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

You could say it’s kind of a mess.

If the ad campaign was designed to get Dr. Pepper its fifteen minutes of Internet flame and fame, well then it certainly worked. But if they were trying to be clever or do market segmentation in any sort of intelligent way, they failed. And not at all because of the ad’s no-women stance.

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

  • They tried to be edgy and were just sad.
  • They tried to be polarizing and were just silly.
  • They failed because if they WERE going to offend anyone, that ad is more offensive to men than it is to women.

If there’s one thing I wish brands could learn is that you can be polarizing and still be intelligent. You can be clever without pandering to the lowest common denominator of man (or woman). You can be edgy without being an idiot or a royal bitch.

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

And that’s what I saw happening with Dr. Pepper’s ad for Dr. Pepper Ten. I wasn’t offended as a woman that this diet soda company was saying I couldn’t play. I was offended with how badly they were doing it.

Men shooting lasers in the woods?

Men making fun of women for watching chick flicks?

Men riding ATVs?

Really? That’s the best Man Zone content you’ve got? Come visit the Outspoken Media office in Troy and I’ll let you yank my pigtails, too.

Not that it’s uncommon, mind you. We saw a similar mess with Groupon earlier this year. They tried to be funny and polarizing and instead ended up begging for forgiveness with its tail between its legs when they couldn’t take the heat. Manly.

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

  1. A true understanding of your audience to know how they need to be pushed.
  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. I think of Erika Napoletano. I think of 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 wouldn’t find any of them dumbing things down for their audience 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…

At Outspoken Media, we’re 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. And it’s healthy.

“There’s nothing wrong with being edgy in marketing or purposely polarizing or pissing off 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 that. 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 women would be offended by the ad. 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. They’re engaged with telling you how dumb you are. And when they forget all about this flare-up in a week’s time, you won’t even have that.

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


About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.


38 thoughts on “Dear Brands, Be Edgy Without Being an Idiot


  • Suzanne Vara on said:

    Best line: “In your attempt to be memorable, you actually became forgettable. That’s offensive.”

    Was this supposed to be a computer game that came to life? Like a real call of duty or something? Esh if so it was pathetic, if not, well that may be more pathetic.

    For lack of a better term and keeping it simple, the spot is just dumb. It is supposed to play upon the inept stereotype humor where we see women being superior to men in cooking, cleaning, caring for the children and are the bitch and controls the man and, with men who are big and burly who like sports, video games and sit on the couch supporting their best Al Bundy style hands in pants. To me, it seems that the creatives and the brands still thing this is funny but the rest of us, just do not. It makes the brand look weak. I am never offended by the inept sterotype humor as I really just tune it out and wonder how on earth are these accounts NOT sent into review.

    Great post as always Lisa. Kill em in BWELA!


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Thanks for the comment, Suzanne!

      I totally agree that playing on gender-oriented stereotypes is old and it’s really not funny anymore. But I think it *could* have been funny if it at least appeared like Dr. Pepper was making fun of them. If they were being ironic about it, maybe I would have followed along. As is, though, you’re just left shaking your head like, “Really? That’s what you came up with?”

      And that’s sad. And a little offensive that that’s the best their marketing company could do.


  • Christina Gleason @ Phenomenal Content on said:

    So Dr. Pepper was trying to follow the lead of Pepsi Max, which was marketed as a diet soda for men back when it debuted. I don’t actually recall any of their ads, but I remember trying the soda and thinking, “Mmm, this is better than Diet Pepsi. Bring on the higher caffeine content, boys!” (There’s a 2-liter bottle in my fridge right now, actually.)

    This Dr. Pepper 10 ad is stupid, but I’m certainly not offended by it. It’s not edgy, but they could’ve tried to pass it off as making fun of themselves and gender bias in advertising. I hate Dr. Pepper as a beverage anyways, so the ad makes me no more or less likely to drink it.


  • Andy Nattan on said:

    Worst thing about it? It’s not even original.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2002/mar/27/advertising.marketingandpr – Yorkie (a British chocolate bar) launched a ‘Not For Girls’ campaign in 2002, which ran for a few years.

    http://www.kewego.co.uk/video/iLyROoaftIs2.html – Nuts (a British boobs & cars mag) then launched a ‘Women! Don’t expect any help on a Thursday’ campaign a year or two later.

    Both bombed. So yeah, if you really want to be an idiot, don’t copy two previous failed efforts.


    • wilson usman on said:

      Whoa! Danika, I just got done watching that entire 5 minute video. What was K-Swiss thinking when they watched this video. I feel like this video would make some people uncomfortable. I bet some parents would freak out in the first minute.


  • Joe Hall on said:

    I actually enjoyed this commercial, I thought it was fun to watch. Watch, not listen to. Because I sometimes like drinking “lady drinks”, and don’t mind the occasional romantic comedy. So, yeah they screwed both segments of their market with this one.


  • Mike Roberts on said:

    Definitely makes me want a Dr. Pepper 10…. :/
    I can see how they thought maybe the stereotyping humor would work… I can see a glimmer of their good intentions… and I can easily see how hard they failed. It appears to me not so much sexist as it is dumb. State Farm did a “sexist humor” type of commercial that got them lots of initial hits on their YouTube channel and no one was up in arms… people chuckled at using the jingle to transform your significant other into a “hotter” version so you can put up with their bitching better. As Zane pointed out, the Dr. Pepper commercial is just yet another company attempting the humor of Old Spice but not really getting what made the Old Spice commercials so good.
    The derisive nature of the commercials will probably give them a spike in sales as people will feel the need to see what’s so special about the drink that idiotically derided women. And in a few months to a year, it will be a sad anecdote and people will still be drinking Dr. Pepper.
    Lastly, I agree with Suzanne on the best line of the post: “In your attempt to be memorable, you actually became forgettable. That’s offensive.”


  • Randy S on said:

    I’ve decided to play devil’s advocate on this.

    Dr. Pepper may take a brand hit because of this commercial, but the upside has so much potential. The video will get viewed much more than it would have otherwise because of its divisive nature and I think more people will give it a try than would have otherwise because of this. And, let’s be honest, their brand is big enough to take a hit because they have such a unique product (aside from Mr. Pibb, but how often do we actually see that).

    I’m assuming that Dr. Pepper has enough faith in their new product to say that if people try it once, they will continue to come back to it because it’s good. And, who’s to say that they didn’t think about all of these repercussions and are silently laughing that they may see some reverse psychology in action?


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      My problem is that I don’t FIND the ad divisive. I wish that it did. If it did, I’d feel something. Even if I was angry, I might be so angry that I’d like nothing more to drive to my local grocery story, pick some up and SHOW those marketers how wrong they are and how much I love their drink!

      …but I don’t feel that. Because in their attempted to be divisive, IMO, they bored everyone because the ad is just NOT clever, NOR polarizing at all. It’s a failed attempt.


  • Armando Di Cianno on said:

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

    This made be (lol), quite literally.

    To be honest, if one is drinking any soda at all, there’s a strong argument to make that one is in a lower social/economic register anyways, and this sort of puerile marketing may actually pay out, as it may appeal to base sensibilities. If one has the wherewithal to analyze the insulting and idiotic nature of this commercial, there’s a good chance one is smart enough to avoid drinking soda. That person is simply not their market.

    Not to say that only dumb people drink soda, but it certainly takes some tricky, mental gymnastics (or actual addiction) to be a smart person and also put poison in your body … similar to otherwise intelligent people using tobacco regularly.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      So your argument is that soda drinkers are lower on the social register so this would actually align with their sense of humor? Or maybe they’re just younger people who find this type of stuff amusing?

      That’s something to think about.


      • Armando Di Cianno on said:

        Generally, yes. I haven’t thought the idea out fully, but I stand by it. I used to be a smoker, so I understand there’s lot of reasons people may subject themselves to products like soda.

        But … well, taking a look at the video game industry for e.g., you’ll see that most of the advertising is in processed food products like sodas, microwavable meat+cheese logs, chewing gum, etc (and personal care products, funny enough). I can totally see ads like this one (albeit executed better, maybe), finding more targets in that sort of market, than a general one.

        I think I was doomed to come off as too strong citing socio-economics, but yeah — there’s something there: this ad isn’t necessarily /wrong/ in it’s approach for that market, it’s just done exceptionally poorly.


        • Kelly Lorenz on said:

          I actually find this comment more offensive than anything Dr. Pepper could have, or did do. As an out and proud soda drinker, I am offended by your belief that we’re all lower than you on the social and economic register as it implies you look down on us as a whole.

          Not that it should matter, but I am doing well economically and have a well paying, full-time job. In fact, every workplace I’ve ever been in, which are majorly made up of middle class folks, has free or close-to-free soda available for its workforce. And you know what? Lots of people drink said soda! I would find it hard to believe that *nobody* in your so-called “upper register” drinks soda of any kind. In fact, I would dare say more “upper class” (I’m using your terms here) women drink diet soda than any other group.

          So yeah. This ad didn’t appeal to me but that doesn’t mean I’m going to not try Dr. Pepper 10 because I really like Diet Dr. Pepper. Now I’m off to go do more “lower register” things with my day like work.


          • Kelly Lorenz on said:

            I actually find this comment more offensive than anything Dr. Pepper could have, or did do. As an out and proud soda drinker, I am offended by your belief that we’re all lower than you on the social and economic register as it implies you look down on us as a whole.

            Not that it should matter, but I am doing well economically and have a well paying, full-time job. In fact, every workplace I’ve ever been in, which are majorly made up of middle class folks, has free or close-to-free soda available for its workforce. And you know what? Lots of people drink said soda! I would find it hard to believe that *nobody* in your so-called “upper register” drinks soda of any kind. In fact, I would dare say more “upper class” (I’m using your terms here) women drink diet soda than any other group.

            Also, did you ever think that may be why Americans are overweight (and again, not just those on the “lower register”)? We *know* intellectually the stuff is not good for us, but that doesn’t stop us from buying it to the tunes of Billions.

            So yeah. This ad didn’t appeal to me but that doesn’t mean I’m going to not try Dr. Pepper 10 because I really like Diet Dr. Pepper. Now I’m off to go do more “lower register” things with my day like work.


          • Kelly Lorenz on said:

            Also, did you ever think that may be why Americans are overweight (and again, not just those on the “lower register”)? We *know* intellectually the stuff is not good for us, but that doesn’t stop us from buying it to the tunes of Billions.


            • Armando Di Cianno on said:

              That’s why I tried to compare it to nicotine use, as well. Tobacco is not going to make one a better cowboy, and DrPepper is definitely not going to make one more of a macho man.

              While soda use is epidemic in less affluent demographics, more affluent demographics aren’t free from it. Yes, I should’ve focused on what DrPepper deemed their market and not call out what is statistically the soda drinking market demographic (as that’s what Lisa’s article is more focused on). I’m the person that makes their own quinine seltzer because they don’t want to get near the sugar bomb sold these days as “tonic” — suffice to say, I’m not DrPepper’s market demographic.

              Re: “Also, did you ever think that may be why Americans are overweight” — yes! Health and nutrition, especially applied food (i.e. cooking), is my main area of personal study — trust me, I could study more on the exercise side of things ;-). I don’t believe my statements about soda are factually wrong, but I could work on my choice of words and politeness.


  • Jim Kukral on said:

    C’mon, can you really “engage” with a freaking soda? Too many people are too caught up in this magical engagement. The truth is, some brands just can’t really be engaged with. This is a great example.

    I wrote a book pretty much on this topic. You’re right, acting dumb to get attention is dumb. But sometimes, just sometimes, you have to take risks to get noticed. Seems like it’s working. The bottom line will be in sales. The CMO of this company is laughing all the way to the bank for cutting his budget on ads to announce this new drink by 90% because of the buzz he’s getting online.


    • Lisa Barone on said:

      Hey, I wasn’t the one trying to engage with a soda. It’s their VP of marketing telling me that’s what the ad was trying to do. ;)

      I don’t want to engage with Dr. Pepper and I’m not offended by the ad. What I’m saying is it LOOKS like they were trying to be edgy with it, they were trying to be memorable, but it flops because the ad is dumb. It’s not even about social media or engaging or talking to your customers. It’s putting smarter people in charge of your ads. Because if the CMO really laughing all the way to the bank with this? Was anyone impressed or so offended that they’ll continue to care?

      I don’t think so. I think this was pretty forgettable. Yeah, you have some people all in a hizzy on the Internet, but tomorrow a cute cat video will come out and they’ll forget all about this.

      And that’s the problem with this. They put time and money into something that is so utterly forgettable that it’s offensive.


      • Jim Kukral on said:

        Yeah, I know you weren’t. :) My comment was directed at you. I actually thought the ad worked perfectly. It got me to realize what the new product was. That was the goal. The soda beverage market is quite possibly the most competitive market in the world. These companies spend billions, with a B, on advertising.

        They won the battle of getting the word out and getting me to notice, and that was all this was really about. Sometimes, that’s enough.


  • Rufus Dogg on said:

    Who cares. If Dr. Pepper wants to piss money out the window by making a stupid ad that won’t increase sales of their soda, let ‘em. Really, how much more can you say about a soda? “I drink Dr. Pepper and I’m proud. I’m part of an original crowd….” singing the jingle right now… gonna buy a Dr. Pepper later.. diet cause it taste like the real thing and I can drink 20 oz and still pull on my skinny jeans.. Booyah!


  • Mike Feiman on said:

    Meh. I actually thought the closing tag was pretty funny. Just to make sure I wasn’t being a misogynistic pig, I showed it to the other folks in the office and the tag got a laugh out of everyone (we have a 50/50 split of guys and gals here). Now it could be the fact that I work in an office where pretty much nothing is offensive or over the line, but I don’t see what all the brouhaha is about. It was an average commercial with an amusing tag. Not great, not awful, just average.


  • Doc Sheldon on said:

    I think you hit it on the head, Lisa. They tried to be edgy and failed miserably.
    There’s often a fine line between edgy and downright dumb. Anyone here old enough to remember this one?

    That was definitely edgy, and definitely memorable, striking at the hearts of homophobes and women in an even less tolerant era.

    When you think about it, if Dr. Pepper had upped the ante and gone with Jean Claude van Damme, it might have hit the mark.


  • Rhea Drysdale on said:

    Finally watched this and was completely underwhelmed given the hype. Have to agree with the boredom note. The ad looks like it hopped out of the early nineties during a mid-day sitcom and I was so busy paying attention to the low quality that I missed the dialogue that was supposed to offend me. Nothing worth engaging here and screams tweens to high school as the demographic.


  • Ron on said:

    So, what’s the problem with this commercial, or the drink for that matter?

    Oh, that’s right, the feminazis hate it because they don’t have a monopoly on the product and can’t claim it as their own.

    Sorry, ladies, get ready for more. You’re not the center of the universe anymore! We’re sick of the constant feminization of the American culture.

    I know. I know. This’ll make the liberals’ heads spin around and explode on their pencil necks, but oh well.


  • Laurie on said:

    Really – you’d think that, as involved as the whole marketing campaign development process is, someone at some point would have said, “Uh, guys…” (and I don’t mean “guys” as gender-specific, in case anyone’s wondering).


  • Dan Padavona on said:

    A few decades ago Siskel and Ebert were having a discussion about the most difficult movie genres to pull off: horror and comedy. It is quite a challenge to legitimately scare someone or make them laugh. I think of this often because Hollywood keeps failing with new horror movies, and commercials keep failing at comedy.

    The Dr Pepper ad just isn’t funny, which is Fail #1. But what I don’t understand is why you would eliminate half the population from considering to buy your product. My prediction is their follow up ads will focus on women taking the reigns and drinking Dr Pepper 10 despite the protests of the men around them. And it too will probably not be very funny, and will fail miserably.

    Now the All-State Mayhem guy…that’s pretty funny.


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