The Dr. is Out

When I learned of the latest marketing gaffe, Dr. Pepper 10, I was reminded yet again that some misguided marketers believe that overt audience exclusion is a smart strategy. If you're selling hamburgers and decide that young adult males are the center of your universe, use big breasted women and potty humor. After all, you don't need female consumers! Be offensive, and edgy. Make NOISE. Not only attempt to appeal to men, but try your best to alienate everyone else (including some of your male targets along the way). And when others question your overt approach, say you're doing it all under the guise of humor.

Dr. Pepper 10, a new ten-calorie drink from the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, is attempting to win over men by creating a brand image that only includes them. The gun metal can is riddled with bullets, the tagline boasts "It's not for women", and ads features snake wrestlers and other such manly endeavors. Taking a page out of "Our Gang", Dr. Pepper is even creating its own version of the "He Man Woman Haters Club" on Facebook where women are not welcome.

The big question the marketers at Dr. Pepper and its agencies should have asked is simple. "Why?" You can have a gender-focused brand that doesn't exclude the opposite sex. Doesn't Dr. Pepper remember the old Irish Spring soap commercials? "Manly, yes, but I like it too." You can win men and women while focusing on either as a priority. There's no good reason, other than shock value, to try to become the AXE deodorant of diet drinks. (Women don't typically wear men's deodorant, so a play to men for AXE is just fine and dandy.)

Marketing Rule #1 is "appeal to the largest amount of potential purchasers as possible." Saying that Dr. Pepper 10 is somehow manly not only excludes potential consumers, but risks sabotaging the product with the most important person in the sales chain -- Shopper Mom.

What gender do you think buys the most soda at grocery or mass merchandise stores? The vast majority of non-alcoholic beverage purchases, some guess more than 90 percent, are made by Shopper Mom. Advertising to men and missing opportunities to sell to women in hopes of getting women to put cases of Dr. Pepper 10 in their carts is a nonsensical strategy. If men are not pushing the cart, (and we know they're not in great numbers), Dr. Pepper will have to rely on men telling their significant others to purchase the product. Further, if the male-centric advertising and branding offends Shopper Mom, she may not stop with Dr. Pepper 10 and might bypass all Dr. Pepper products entirely. That is simply the reality of retail, and a wildly unnecessary risk to take.

Let's get back to the question -- Why? An educated guess is a brand manager or two thought it would be bitchin' to put a line in the sand and say that "We're going to be the first diet drink that stands up for men!". They probably executed research that proved men didn't want to be associated with diet drinks. Maybe they even tested their advertising and marketing in market. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to consider the ways to accomplish Dr. Pepper 10's goals without being exclusionary or potentially offensive. Moreover, they took their eyes off of the shopping cart.

Do you want to create controversy, or do you want to sell product?

When we forget what our primary purpose of marketing is -- to sell products and services for corporations and shareholders, we risk making costly errors in judgment. Dr. Pepper should reconsider its marketing and advertising strategies before 10 falls desperately short of its potential. By not keeping women in the marketing mix, the product might still sell. It just won't be the perfect 10 it was meant to be.