Diagnosing Dr Pepper

The above commercial for Dr Pepper’s new flavor, “Ten”, has caused a ton of controversy and chatter in the marketing world this week.  The new product is aimed at the segment of the soda-drinking population who is male, is health-conscious (and therefore watching their caloric intake), and also doesn’t like the “girly” image that diet soda and diet soda advertising seems to often have.  Thus, the Dr created an advertising spot that is the exact opposite of girly – a “No Girls Allowed” take that combines action and humor to relate to that market.  It’s backed by a Facebook App that allows fans of Dr Pepper to call out their friends on breaking one of the “10 ‘Man-ments”.

What’s the problem?  Some women find the ad highly sexist and offensive.  Popular women’s website Jezebel has an article titled, “Dr Pepper’s Weird Anti-Woman Ads Backfire”, which notes that there have been many negative comments from both men and women posted on Dr Pepper’s Facebook page in response to the campaign. But according to Jim Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for Dr Pepper, test-marketing was done in six markets before the campaign was rolled out nationally, and overall, women didn’t find it offensive. “Women get the joke,” he said. “‘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.”

The debate begs a few questions.  Is the ad campaign truly offensive?  Should Dr Pepper have run it?  Did it even need to take that approach?  Is running a controversial campaign really a bad idea anyway?  Or is all PR truly good PR?  In Dr Pepper’s case, the answers will come when sales figures for Dr Pepper roll in.  But what will we learn for our own companies?  If you were in Dr Pepper’s position, what would you do?  Issue a mea culpa and pull the ad or soldier on in the belief that the vocal dissenters are in the minority?

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