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What the Hell, Advertising? Beverage Edition

2011 November 28

A while back we took a look at some recent adverts and discovered that, in a surprising turn of results, they were a bit crap when it came to portrayals of gender. And when I say a bit crap I mean it appeared that the advertising executives responsible had just recently stepped out of a portal from 1953 and brought their value system with them.

Today we revisit that topic because there are so very many adverts out there and we need a reminder that this is a field in need of a change. Advertising plays a large part in shaping our views of the world, so when it’s portraying something that’s almost casually wrongheaded, that’s a problem.

Now, confession: I watch a lot of American football. And this apparently makes me the target demographic for adverts pushing light beer, pickup trucks (September is truck month! Truck Month! TRUCK MONTH! Also so are all the other months) and soft drinks. Every ad break is packed full of these, and if there’s one thing American football does not lack for, it is ad breaks. What I’m saying here is that I’ve seen a lot of these adverts, and they are seventeen different shades of bad. The truck ads are surprisingly free of the sort of overblown machismo you might expect from the automotive industry, but the beer and soft drinks? Oh, my. So let us take a look at three terrible beverage adverts.

1: Dr Pepper Ten

The advertising industry is known for its orginality. No wait, the other thing. Lack of creativity and original thinking, that’s what I meant to say. So it is perhaps not surprising that Dr Pepper have lifted the entire idea for this ad campaign directly from the old “Not for girls” thing Yorkie did.

Dr Pepper Ten, like Coke Zero before it, is a diet drink for men. Men don’t go on diets, you see, so you can’t put the word “diet” in the name of the drink. Calories are manly; watching what you consume is not. That, Dr Pepper assures us, is for the ladies. This message is forced through our eyeballs and directly into our brains via the medium of explosions and toughness, because if there is anything that women hate, it’s explosions. That’s a science fact.

And okay, you can say “But Dr Pepper are clearly being ironic! It’s a sly and hip jab at sexist values! Get a sense of humour!” Except no, the problem with ironically supporting terrible gender values is that you’re still supporting terrible gender values, and those are still an active problem that negatively impact the lives of countless people. It would be nice to be in a place where we can look back and go “Ha ha, those outdated ideas, how quaint and comical they seem now from our position of enlightenment.” But we’re not in that place yet – we still live in a world where these values are things people actually believe. Read the YouTube comments if you want to see why this is still a problem. Except don’t, because much like reading the creepy eldritch book in a Lovecraft story, reading Youtube comments can lead only to infinite screaming madness as your brain confronts unknowable horrors.

Of course, the real reason no one drinks Diet Dr Pepper is not because diet drinks are somehow effeminate, it’s because Diet Dr Pepper tastes like licking the underside of a pub table.

2. Miller Lite

Drinking the wrong light beer makes you less of a man. This is another science fact. We’re learning a lot today. Thank you advertising! This is one of many recent Miller ads that makes a link between choice of beer and ability to conform to established gender roles. They also have an “unmanly choice” range in which men are judged by their peers for making unmanly choices such as riding on a scooter or drinking the wrong brand of light beer.

See, here’s the thing: all alcoholic drinks are basically a chemical to make your brain go temporarily wonky plus some other stuff to hide the taste of this brain-wonking substance. That is all drinks, forever. So why is one flavour man-tastic and another not? It is a mystery. Someone fetch me a fruity colourful cocktail so I can make this point properly about how thoroughly ridiculous it is to gender one’s choice of alcohol.

For an added bonus, Miller throw in some token sexy female lifeguards (because maybe if you drink Miller Lite, you too will receive attention from professional models. That is how things work, right?) and some bonus “comedy” fear of people who are insufficiently attractive to meet beer advert norms. Careful, if you drink the wrong beer someone you don’t find appealing may try to force CPR on you. This is a thing that happens. Honest.

3. Fosters

To round out the trio of beverage related horrors, we have Fosters serving up a healthy heap of happy homophobia. Guys, don’t touch other guys! That’s how you get the gay. This is our third and final science fact of the day. Do you want to become gay? Of course not! That would be a massive social failing on your part. So drink Fosters, to ensure you receive your suggested daily dose of heterosexuality.

These are not values it is okay to espouse. This is not some lighthearted humour at a topic too ridiculous to be taken seriously, it is a marketing tool that helps establish harmful cultural norms.

For an added treat, it’s not just issues of gender and homophobia on which the advertising industry fails us here. Look back over those three adverts and tell me what you don’t see. Here’s a helpful hint: the answer is anyone who isn’t white. People from non-white backgrounds make up over one quarter of America’s population, but apparently 0% of its beverage-purchasing demographic.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    November 28, 2011

    I’ve never quite understood why tastes good = unmanly in the eyes of advertisers and some members of the public. The same standard that applies to alcohol appears to apply to certain foodstuffs as well; anything sweet is “feminine”, despite the fact that both men and women are programmed to enjoy sweet foods.

    If you listened to the marketing, of course, as a man you’d drink nothing but bitter and eat nothing but raw steak, and die at the age of 25.

  2. December 2, 2011

    I have my own blog for my writing about women course, and I did a similar post, I notices after reading this post is that the portrayal of women (stereotypical) and main concepts, beer making you a man, are found in international ads. It seems that culturally we might not all be alike but when it comes to stereotyping and placing people into gender roles were are more alike than I thought we would be.

    • Stephen B permalink
      December 5, 2011

      I’m in Serbia at the moment being all ‘foreign-correspondent’ for BadRep, and the gender-stereotyping (and hetero-, white, etc assumptions) in advertising here is unbelievable. And we’re not that far from Italy, home of (as far as I’ve seen) the worst genderised adverts in the western world. So sadly I totally agree, we’re quite alike internationally on a scale that makes London look GOOD (there’s a terrifying concept).

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