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‘Not for women’: Tongue-in-cheek or just plain sexist?

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 13-Oct-2011

Related topics: Markets

Diet soda is ladylike but low-calorie soda is manly. It might seem like a subtle difference, but that’s the only thing that’s subtle about the blundering marketing campaign for Dr. Pepper Ten.

The advertising for Dr. Pepper Ten came as a surprise to me. I’m interested in the idea of mid-calorie soda. But rather than playing on the benefits of the drink or telling people why they might like it, it tells us in a camo-clad cry, “It’s not for women!”

That’s right; it’s a marketing campaign that actively looks to exclude half of its potential market.

The action film pastiche commercial is patronizing to both men and women in its reinforcement of what I had (perhaps naïvely) hoped were outdated stereotypes.

Now, this is shamelessly provocative marketing – and it may well work to boost sales for that very reason – but that doesn’t make it any less crass.

What is clear is that it’s a strategy that gets people talking – and asking questions. It deliberately picks at the edges of our comfort zones. Is it OK to be sexist if it’s done with irony? In a post-feminist world, is it OK to exclude women on the basis that women are no longer oppressed? And an even more pertinent question: Are women still oppressed?

Diet imagery isn’t macho

According to the company, Dr. Pepper Ten targets men aged 25-34 who “prefer the full-flavor experience of regular Dr Pepper but want a lower-calorie option without the diet imagery”.

I’m not a part of that demographic, but guess what, I’d like that too! It doesn’t matter how many pink-packaged ‘diet’ candy bars and soft drinks are marketed to me as a woman, I can’t believe that these are anything more than cynical ways to appeal to the image-obsessed stereotype of my gender – and I refuse to swallow them.

Provocation is a blunt instrument. It may prove effective for sales – perhaps as effective as sexually explicit marketing – but it is still crude and obtuse.

If any publicity is indeed good publicity, then I’m aware that I’ve just done my bit for Dr. Pepper, but I hope I’m wrong.

As a final thought, I’ve seen a few bloggers asking another provocative question: Would this ad be offensive if it involved a bunch of redneck clichés and proclaimed “it’s not for blacks”?

You bet it would.