business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Just a quick heads up to the marketing geniuses at Dr Pepper Ten, a new “macho” soft drink that proudly boasts “No Women Allowed” on its man-cave Facebook page.

Who do you think does most of the grocery shopping across America today? Judging by your new television ads, your hot-wheeling target audience is far too busy wrestling jungle snakes and bad guys while firing laser guns to be pushing something as pedestrian as a grocery cart.

Which would leave the purchasing power in the hands of the very gender your new ad campaign clearly eschews – women.

Dr Pepper introduced the new 10 calorie soft drink earlier this month, citing research that many men are dissatisfied with the taste and image of diet drinks. The big boys in the carbonated beverage biz went after the same market with Coke Zero and Pepsi Mac. Unlike zero-calorie, no sugar Diet Dr Pepper, the new version has 10 “manly” calories, 2 grams of sugar, in a gunmetal grey can riddled with bullets. And a marketing campaign that states: “It’s not for women.”

Which begs the question – are they serious or just trying to stir up publicity and a social media firestorm with this approach?

The certainly accomplished the latter. Within hours of the ad campaign’s launch, the blogs were buzzing about the overt exclusion of women and the Dr Pepper 10 Facebook page (including a manly shooting gallery to take out “girly stuff.”)

Even Dr Pepper’s main Facebook page had fans stating they were offended by the commercials and would boycott all products. Typical posts included:

“I have been a Dr Pepper fanatic for year but will now choose to switch drinks.”

“Did you really mean to offend 80% of the buying population in the stores?”

Countered another: “It is called a joke and it is out there for those with a sense of humor.”

The debate spilled over to the shopping mom blogs as well. Said one:

“I will never buy a product with a sexist advertisement. Forget it Dr Pepper. All your products are now out of our cart. Apologize.”

Even Ellen Degeneres chimed in on her show, asking, “Do you really want to offend half the population? The half that buys the groceries?”

New statistics from YouGov’s BrandIndex, a daily measure of brand perception among the public, shows that buzz about Dr Pepper Ten has been on a decline with both sexes since the Oct. 10 launch. It found that men don’t like to feel self-conscious about their purchases, and women’s distaste for the exclusive campaign may adversely impact sales of all Dr Pepper brands.

Dr Pepper marketing exec Jim Trebilcock had earlier defended the campaign as a “conversation starter” between the sexes.

"Women get the joke," he told the Associated Press.

As previously noted in this column, I do get the joke – when the joke is funny, as in the witty and wildly successful Old Spice guy commercials. But not when the joke is sexist, demeaning, offensive or part of a lame marketing strategy that falls as flat as day-old soda.

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