MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Commercial Controversy: Past & Future, Pt. 3 | March 16, 2011

If the current slogans for major beverage brands are any indication, the science of selling diet soda is to focus on its flavor. Diet Dr. Pepper is said to “taste more like regular Dr. Pepper.” Coke Zero has “Coca Cola taste” with “zero calories,” and consumers should drink Diet Coke “just for the taste of it.” But now PepsiCo, which owns a full third of the U.S. soft drink market, is breaking with advertising tradition, trading how its latest diet cola tastes for another pitch: how the drink looks.

Seen to the left, Pepsi’s new “skinny can” — similar in shape and color to Red Bull’s packaging — will be at the forefront of a promo effort to run throughout 2011. Ads will celebrate the new can, the colloquial use of “skinny” (i.e., to “get the skinny”) and the fitness of its drinkers — but not everyone is ready to celebrate the campaign. Lynn Grefe, president of the National Eating Disorders Association, has declared that “Pepsi should be ashamed for declaring that skinny is to be celebrated.” Writing for Slate, Libby Copeland criticized the can as “aspirational, looks-oriented advertising with a thin layer of faux-empowerment on top.” And Pepsi’s first print ad for the product (see below), which debuted at the end of February, was bashed in the blog world for its digital redefinition of Sofia Vergara — the curvaceous Modern Family actress whose shoulders and cheekbones seem suspiciously slender as she sips the skinny drink through a straw. (Vergara has since denied any Photoshopping or visual correction.)Pepsi, of course, finds the controversy ridiculous. It plans to move forward with what it views as an appeal to “beautiful, confident women” — and, according to AdAge, industry pros think the new look will work and the scandal will disappear. Perhaps, then, the skinny can will not go the way of Crystal Pepsi, the short-lived clear cola that famously fizzled in the early nineties. In any case, the can is hardly as offensive as ad campaigns past, three of which are explored in this continuing series on the evolution of advertising. Continue reading for the full skinny.


Lane Bryant, “Free For Chubbies”
In the 1950s, clothing maker Lane Bryant appealed to heftier women with a series of print ads like this one, which defines its target market as “chubbies.” The same plus-size industry still exists today, but companies would be ridiculed for using such direct (and arguably insulting) vocabulary. That said, Lane Bryant seems to be celebrating the larger woman, not ignoring or demeaning her — certainly a refreshing concept considering the thin-is-in ideology that runs rampant in the modern advertising world.

Colt, “Christmas Gift”
Colt, the iconic gun company, would never get away with this type of ad today. The very idea of a mail-order handgun is largely illegal now; unwrapping a firearm for Christmas, meanwhile, doesn’t exactly evoke the imagery of Santa on a sleigh, even if the gun does roughly approximate the shape of a stocking. Tellingly, the ad is from 1939.

Dormeyer, “Wives”
Lastly, appliance company Dormeyer suggests in this ad that all women — or, as described here, “wives” — will be reduced to weeping if their husbands don’t satiate their appetite for kitchen products. “Circle the items you want for Christmas,” the ad commands: “If [your husband] does not go to the store immediately, cry a little.” Such belittlement would not be tolerated today.

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1 Comment »

  1. I really enjoy your analytical posts about advertisements and commercials! I posted the Pepsi “Skinny Can” ad on my Facebook profile and the ensuing discussion among my friends was very interesting — we all think the ad (and the new product design) is ridiculous. We’re not falling for it. One of my friends wrote that Sofia Vergara’s clothing and makeup style seems “retro” in the ad and she feels that Pepsi did that purposely to try to evoke the feeling of nostalgia. This seems to be a trend in its recent new product designs and marketing. The company released Retro Pepsi in Mexico in 2008 (http://www.cnnexpansion.com/negocios/2008/02/13/pepsi-se-tropicaliza) and Pepsi Raw (marketed as “the great tasting natural cola” — “natural cola” seems like an oxymoron to me) in the U.K. (http://www.pepsiraw.co.uk/). Both feature retro glass bottle designs. What do you think? Is Pepsi trying to make money by referencing the past?

    Comment by Talia K. — March 18, 2011 @ 7:43 pm


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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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