Codebreaking: “No Women Allowed” to Drink Dr. Pepper

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Stupid question: is this commercial sexist?

The highlights: The ad plays on masculine stereotypes in an tongue-in-cheek backlash to some imagined feminized world. Beard guy doges lasers and shoots a big gun while running through a jungle, simultaneously mocking romantic comedies. He hops into a jeep driven by his square-jawed friend, all the while extolling the manly virtues of Dr. Pepper Ten, a manly diet beverage so manly that it still has ten calories, even though it’s a diet soda. Beard Guy yells the catchphrase “Catchphrase”, and the commercial ends with the tagline “No Women Allowed.” And then the internet exploded.

First, the easy part: this is an excellent commercial. As you’d expect, it is working among men in the key I-live-away-from-my-parents-but-still-live-off-their-money 18-35 demographic. But better yet, “Jim Treblicock, executive vice president of marketing for the company, said about 40 percent of people who have tried the soda so far are women.”

The ad that is blatantly sexist is motivating sales to women. Maybe women are curious about what a “manly diet soda” tastes like. Or Maybe some women are taking an “I’ll show them” approach. Apparently we’re all willing to accept the reality that sex sells, but we’ll be damned if we allow sexism to sell.

But none of that is the point. In fact, if you have accepted the premise that this campaign may be sexist against women, you’ve already lost. Just stroll over to the Dr. Pepper machine and throw your money at it.

The reason this campaign is brilliant is because it has convinced everyone to accept a definition a new and ridiculous definition of manliness. No, not the car chases, gunfights, and explosions. Everyone accepts that those are cliches and stereotypes.

Soda advertising is often wildly high concept, exceedingly creative, and so iconic that it becomes the archetype of what advertising is. Soda advertising is like this not in spite of the fact that the underlying product is so pedestrian and simple but because of it. How do you differentiate you bubbly sugar water from the ten billion other varieties that have been on the market for the last century? By divorcing the message from the product, and making the ad entirely about identity.

Diet Coke’s current campaign is “Stay Extraordinary”, which shows people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities drinking Diet Coke on the job. The viewer is so bombarded with imagery persuading it that people with extraordinary jobs drink Diet Coke, that the viewer does not have a chance to question whether the people in the ad, or the jobs they are doing, are extraordinary at all.

The same thing is at work here. The viewers, especially female viewers, are so busy deciding whether to be offended by the blatant sexism against women that they ignore the sexism against men implicit in the ad.

Dr. Pepper is connecting manliness to it’s product, not with the gunfights and Hollywood action, but with the tagline at the end. Dr. Pepper is saying that by purchasing the product, you will be manly because you are excluding women. To be manly is to exclude women.

That is the only non-ironic message about manliness in the ad: manliness is about excluding women. Is it true? Most of us seem to be okay with it, because we’ve accept that premise without realizing it in order to take the bait and complain about sexism against women.

And that’s the insidious part of the ad. We so want to fight the easy fight, to chase the cheap heat, that we’ll accept everything else to get there. We accept that to be manly is to exclude women, because if we don’t then the ad is no longer sexist, but stupid and nonsensical, and we’ll lose a great opportunity to be offended.
 

Related posts:

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  3. Sofia Vergara’s Diet Pepsi ad
  4. Codebreaking: Cyborg Eye from HAL 9000 to Droid Smartphones
  5. Codebreaking: Playing Spot-the-Difference in new Acura ads

13 Responses to Codebreaking: “No Women Allowed” to Drink Dr. Pepper

  1. TheCoconutChef says:

    But wasn’t the ad made precisely because there would be an outcry of sexism by a certain type of women?

    From the original article:
    ““Women get the joke. ‘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,” he said.”

    And now we’re back to what Alone said about Jezebel and Scott Adam. The target audience of the ad really is a certain “feminist type” which will THEN produce the real ad for the target demo of the product.

    “Enraged feminist still complaining about something. I’ll buy that shit out of spite.”

    • TheCoconutChef says:

      “Enraged feminist still complaining about something. I’ll buy that shit out of spite.”

      A man in the target demo of the product is thinking this. Not sure how clear I was.

  2. Dan Dravot says:

    Enraged feminists aren’t going to buy Dr. Pepper out of spite; they’ll boycott it out of spite. But there are so few of that kind of feminist that to a first approximation, they don’t even exist. They represent women the way ScoJo does, or the way adventure movie heroes and wife-abusers in wife-beaters represent men: The media just really loves those images a lot, for whatever reason (see Heinlein’s Razor about stupidity vs malice).

    Yeah, to a first approximation, ScoJo doesn’t exist. Try to get a date with her and see if I’m wrong.

    Anyhow. The kind of men who like adventure movies are certainly capable of laughing at themselves as long as it’s in a spirit of friendly male insult. And they certainly don’t take adventure movies at all seriously. The intense, self-conscious dumbness of the commercial is necessary because otherwise it’d just be stupid.

    Beyond that, women actually control more disposable income than men in the US. Virtually all advertising avoids offending women, and there’s a great deal of it targeted very explicitly at women. There’s nothing notable about a commercial overtly excluding men, or describing a product as “just for women” — and not just feminine hygiene products, but regular stuff. Nobody complains, because the men dumb enough to care are just as vanishingly rare as their female counterparts, and have no access to media. Also, female-targeted advertising takes itself very seriously, and is also somewhat less likely to outrage feminists[1] than this stuff. In fact, “just for women” advertising is such a cliché that it’s a ripe target for satire. Like, for example, you can easily imagine some “creatives” (since when is that a goddamn noun?) sitting around a conference table spitballing, and somebody says “What if instead of a just-for-women diet-sugar-water campaign, we had one that was just for men?” “OMG, that would be so funny!”

    I’ll bet you ten bucks that’s what happened.

    As a sexist neanderthal, I don’t mind one bit that TV blasts its monstrous braineating craphose primarily at women. They’re welcome to it. But… Jesus, can’t they see that they shouldn’t welcome the attention? OK, it beats the hell out of Saudi Arabia, I’ll give ‘em that.

    If it were really a commercial that was actually just for men, it wouldn’t have to say women weren’t allowed. It would merely focus on stuff women don’t give a damn about.

    [1] Though sometimes it will anyway, because a professional feminist who is not expressing outrage cannot be proven to exist, which if you’re a professional feminist must be pretty scary. On a slow day, they have to settle for being outraged at whatever’s handy. What an embarrassingly stupid job. If feminists really mean what they say, why are they willing to engage in an occupation as degrading, useless, and infantile as professional feminism?

    Res ipsa loquitur. Selah.

    • Guy Fox says:

      In the 3rd paragraph you recapitulated the plot of the Mad Men episode where they launch the Right Guard campaign (i.e. they opted against the rocket/space ace idea and went with the ‘any excuse to get closer’ one because women do the shopping). That’s not a criticism; it might even lend credibility to the thesis, or at least to the thesis that all manifestations of culture are collapsing in a Big Crunch.

      Depend on size of man’s head. Big head, big ball, small head, small ball.

      • Dan Dravot says:

        Well, I do think we’re collapsing, but not because advertisers pander to whoever spends the money. They ought to. You sell what sells. The customers may be retards, but at least they have the right incentives.

        • Guy Fox says:

          You sell what sells.

          True, but ‘to sell’ has two meanings, and I hope you mean only one. It can mean 1) having products on offer for sale; 2) hustling products to get people to buy them.

          #1 is as necessary as electricity or language: humanity might be able to do without, but it ain’t gonna be pretty.
          #2 is vile. It’s the inception of little voices in your head telling you that underpants from K-Mart suck because they’re from K-Mart. (N.B. they might indeed suck, but if they do, it’s because they’re made by endentured child labourers or fall apart after the 3rd wash, not because they’re from K-Mart.)

          Which incentives do the customers have? Satisfying their needs and maximizing their consumer surplus or using the letters on their hoodies as proxies for meaning?

          Why are they retards? Because they were born foolish, or because they’ve been held back by hustlers, telling them “A&F hoodies rule!”?

  3. qubitman says:

    After reading your question about sexism I watched the ad. I was expecting women in the advertisement. I was expecting to see a man put a woman down in a subtle way that makes me as a child of hyper-tolerance go “hold up, that’s not cool”. What I got was a silly commercial that was hard to relate to in any way. I kinda like how it’s over the top and silly, but it’s not really over the top enough to click with my sense of what is entertaining. I notice how he spilled it on his hand as he was pouring it, because that was obvious. What I notice on further viewing is that he’s wearing his seatbelt, also his square jawed friend is wearing glasses. The motorcycle dudes are caught by a net, not by explosions. As an insecure young man I don’t find anything really threatening about this. The protagonist actually feels more friendly than anything. His claim about it being not for women sounds like he’s half joking, but that might just be me. I can’t tell you how your typical college educated female would feel about this, but if they’re offended then you’re right, they’ve already lost.

    Personally I prefer car commercials.

  4. thestage says:

    There are millions of commercials like this one. See: every beer commercial.

    What is more interesting is not the “men are overreacting to a world in which they cannot categorically claim superiority and always get away with it socially by pinning themselves into a fantasy of manliness” thing, but the “when did ‘manly’ become code for ‘childish’?” thing. Because that’s what this is. Not even stupid–because that’s understandable, given that everyone watching the ad is a blithering idiot–but just outright, openly childish.

    • slow learner says:

      Until the late 17th century there wasn’t much distinction between adult and child toys or games, an adult could play with dolls and not feel it was beneath them. I’m guessing this is coming back in favor because of video games, they don’t have a history of division like dolls do so they have more pull for adults, though there is a drive to tradition that wants the divide it probably will lose out because the technical support for games is so strong.

  5. Hypocrisy Illustrated says:

    We “Men of the Western World” are really in a crisis.

    I’m not supposed to enjoy cycling, because it’s not a proper expression of responsible mature masculinity; a bicycle is just a toy.

    But I really learned my lesson after drinking Coca Cola Light when my penis fell off.

    Now I’ve switched to Coke Zero (aka Bloke Coke) and my testes seem to be growing back.

    I’m also now regularly bathing in Axe products, but I’m still looking for other appropriately “masculine” stuff to cultivate my consumer identity in an appropriately male fashion.

    Has anybody seen toothpaste just for men?

    Or better yet extra tough toilet paper for extra tough guys?
    This masculine asshole here certainly doesen’t want anybody thinking he’s soft and needs someting cottony delicate for that.

    How ’bout a “Happy Ending” for that?

  6. Leucrotta says:

    all this for a soda that is about 4% of the dollar segment of the soda category? They needed to get attention and they got…I still will drink Vanilla Cream instead

  7. DGS says:

    Can’t we just use Occlam’s razor and figure “women buy food for the house. this commercial says “this is for men, and implicitly states ‘it’s what we want’ hence I’ll get it for him next time over Diet Coke”

    too simple?

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