Dr. Pepper 10 response more patronizing than ad

Remember a certain soft drink company that decided the best way to peddle their low-calorie sugar water was with an ad campaign that proclaimed “It’s not for women” and “No girls allowed”?

Well reader Katharine, like many people, wrote in to complain, and the auto-response she received from the company was, incredibly, more condescending and patronizing than the original ad. Commenter Nicole noticed this as well back in October.

Company response reprinted in full after the jump.

January 6, 2012

Dear Ms. XXX:

Thank you for writing to us about Dr Pepper TEN and allowing us to
respond to your concerns.  I am a woman who loves the full flavor of
Dr Pepper TEN and the fact that it’s only 10 calories. When I first
saw the tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign and the tagline, my
reaction was, “I’ll be the judge of that.”  In other words, no
one is going to tell me what I can eat or drink.

We are disappointed to hear that we could be losing you- I see this as
a fun campaign and a very good product that I personally enjoy. We
hope you, too, will come to see our advertising campaign for what it
is, a humorous take on the many men who are worried about their
waistlines but are too “manly” to drink a diet soda.


Consumer Relations

Ah yes, the classic “I’m a woman who’s not offended so you shouldn’t be either” argument. Verrrry effective, I’m told, unless one happens to have that weird genetic tic that causes your personality, thoughts, and feelings to be determined by your brain, not by what some supposedly female Customer Relations talking head tells you to think.

My main problem with this tired ole PR response is that it shows how confused and out of touch the company is. They can’t seem to decide how to defend their company, probably because they won’t admit to themselves that it needs to be defended in the first place. So they downplay its offensiveness as “tongue-in-cheek,” which it may have been intended to be, but don’t acknowledge that they missed the mark or apologize for the offense (nary an apology in sight, in fact). Then, they go on to respond to the legitimate complaint of their customer by condescendingly explaining to her how she should have interpreted the commercial: by excitedly exclaiming “I’ll be the judge of that” while compulsively downing Dr. Pepper 10’s, sticking her fingers in her ears and writing on a chalkboard 500 times “No one can tell me what to do nanny nanny boo boo.”

But seriously. There’s a lesson to be learned from all this. If your company’s sexist ad campaign spurs a wave of outrage and offense, don’t respond by tokenizing some woman from your PR firm and suggesting all women should have the exact same reaction that she did because they’re women too.

H/t Katharine

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/dim8400/ Jenny

    If you want to complain about this do it with your money.

    Say Dr Pepper says 1 million dollars worth of product per day as a base point.

    If After releasing this ad their sales went up to 1.1 million dollars per day, it is a successful ad campaign, no matter how many people decide to email their dislike.

    If After releasing this ad their sales went down to .9 million per day, then it is a failure no matter how many people email in support.

    As long as an ad makes a company more money, the company can and will run that ad. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.

    • http://feministing.com/members/pizzuti/ Matt

      I think that is a decent approach, it can’t work all by itself.

      First, I think we have to acknowledge that sexist messaging is effective because sexists outnumber those who are not. Or rather, in most of us the sexism in us outweighs the anti-sexist in us. So if Dr. Pepper loses 10% of its customer base when conscious feminists walk away but gains 20% by effectively appealing to the sexist anxieties of men, that’s still a win on their books.

      I think that in this case it’s likely that the research found that women were not the customers of Dr. Pepper in the first place, so they figured the gains they could make through this kind of advertising campaign was better than what they risked by offending women, and they were likely correct.

      Second, even if you do stop buying, you have to let them know WHY you stopped – because marketing research, as well-funded as it is, operates with biases. Also, I’m pretty sure the advertising is done by an outside agency, not Dr. Pepper, and if the company were to fire this agency for poor performance and pick up a new one, they don’t necessarily know how the agency messed up and may pick up a new one that has similar problems. They need to hear and know specifically why potential customers are concerned.

      I don’t see your comment as being unaware of these things, but I do think one of the obstacles we are dealing with is the fact that capitalism lends itself to problematic messages, and capitalism itself cannot be the only solution. I’m all ears as to what other types of things can work!

      • honeybee

        I agree with Jenny strongly – and in response to your points to me this is a perfect example of where we often are targetting the wrong subjects. If you can convince the general public that these messages are sexist and wrong, then regardless of what Dr. Pepper employees think you’ll beat campaigns like this and stop them from happening again. It has the even bigger bonus of educating the public, instead of stopping 1 minor campaign across thousands of companies.

  • http://feministing.com/members/smash/ smash

    Thanks for sharing this response from Dr. Pepper; typical tokenizing.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bnorman/ Bonnie Norman

    I heard this ad campaign on the radio in my car the other day and literally said out loud, Holy Sh*t! What the hell were they thinking? It’s not only anti-woman, it portrays men as little boys who still think girls have cooties. Wth? And I love DP. I am a Diet DP drinker and I hate the thought of boycotting them, but I will. Sigh.

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ toongrrl

    That letter is just squat, I still see the damn commerical on television

  • http://feministing.com/members/thedelphiad/ Dom

    That letter essentially says that “oh, women are supposed to think whatever the company and ad men says they should. I don’t want to lose my job, so of course I agree.” Not an apology. Can you imagine if the Dr. Pepper ad said it was “not for Jews”? Ha, ha, not. I bet they would backtrack a lot faster then.

  • http://feministing.com/members/4thwaver/ Lauren

    I blogged about this commercial back in October, when I first saw it. — http://4thwavefeminism.blogspot.com/2011/10/mad-men.html.

    Besides being offensive, it’s just lazy advertising. In this day and age, it’s sad that we aren’t beyond blatantly outdated gender stereotyping. Dr. Pepper, you lose.

  • honeybee

    I want to extend what Jenny said by saying that companies by definition, are not altruistic nor is it in their best interest to be so. ESPECIALLY now with the recession and times being tough for so many people and so many companies, if they have a chance to make money from a particular campaign, then even if it does offend some people they are going to do it. And to be honest, I can’t blame them. This is their livelihood at stake.

    The only way to combat this isn’t to go after the individual company or campaign and just hope they care more about being a good person instead of making money, instead it’s to shape the general public’s attitudes and opinions such that campaigns like this don’t work in the first place.

    Otherwise the entire excercise is pointless anyways since ultimately, don’t we care more about shaping how people actually think instead of just making sure no one publically says what they are really thinking?

  • tinicard
  • http://feministing.com/members/feminnesota/ Eliza

    I wrote to Dr. Pepper and here is the response that I rec’d – needless to say, they still don’t have my business!
    January 14, 2012
    Dear Ms. XXX:

    We regret that you were unhappy with the advertisement. Extensive consumer research is conducted prior to our commercials being aired on television. Please be assured that we are sensitive to the views of all consumers. We will forward your concerns to our marketing department and advertising agencies for their review when developing future ad campaigns.

    I would like to start off by saying that I am a woman who loves and enjoys the full flavor of Dr Pepper TEN. Therefore, no one is going to tell me what I can eat or drink. When I first saw the tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign and the tagline, my reaction was, “I’ll be the judge of that.”

    We appreciate you taking the time to share your comments about our campaign for Dr Pepper TEN. I’d like to go into more detail about our Dr Pepper TEN if you don’t mind. When it comes to Dr Pepper TEN , we marketed to male consumers 25-34 who enjoy the taste of a regular carbonated soft drink & feel like diet carbonated soft drinks require them to compromise on taste & image. However, they are at a point in their lives where they want to make new choices about the food & beverages they consume on a daily basis for a healthier, happier lifestyle.

    Now, we have a huge female customer base that has been satisfied with Diet Dr Pepper as their beverage of choice for years; however we learned through extensive market research that there was a gap in our male audience that was looking for a low-calorie alternative to regular Dr Pepper that lacked the diet imagery. Therefore, we produced Dr Pepper TEN as a great option!

    We appreciate your feedback and appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. We hope you, too, will come to see our advertising campaign for what it is, a humorous take on the many men who are worried about their waistlines but feel they are too “manly” to drink a diet soda.


    Consumer Relations


  • http://feministing.com/members/junior612/ junior612

    Sup, first need to say that I can see how people see the ad as sexest or offensive and I’m not here to convert anyone or disrespect anyone but to be an objective voice.
    My brother had told me that the ad was under fire with complaints and I didn’t believe it.

    Ladies there are so many ads that I feel patronize women besides this ad marketers advertise to women with “sensitivity” “we understand you” “you’re unique”
    or women walking around with big shopping bags or jumping up and down over shoes or jewelry.

    I’m sorry but isn’t Sure deodarant advertised as “strong enough for a man but made for a woman”?
    Y’all got special k, slim fast, lean cuisine, 100 calorie pack desserts and snacks.
    Men got hungry man 1lb dinners! And when it comes down to it do advertisers dictate what you buy?
    For me I bought in as a kid but as an adult I don’t care about advertising I buy what I like. I couldn’t care whats the popular opinion.
    No disrespect but all the things you feel are unjust and unfair as a woman imigane being a woman of color where you’re represented in a pretty small
    percentage of the majority.

    Anyway’s my 2 cents for what it’s worth.