Dr. Pepper: What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

What’s the worst that could happen when one of the world’s most famous brands launches a witty, edgy and innovative social media campaign?

It manages to promote hardcore scatological porn to a 14-year-old.

Actually, that’s not the worst.

Worse than that is that the 14 year old’s mother is a “Mumsnetter” – a poster on the UK’s most popular and influential parenting site.

Now see what happens if you Google “Dr Pepper Facebook” – at the time of writing, the top result is the Dr Pepper Facebook page, but all the other results reference the fact that Coca Cola (owner of the Dr Pepper brand) have been forced to pull their campaign after pornography complaints.

The campaign was targeted at teenagers, and asked them to sign up to allow Dr Pepper to take over their Facebook pages and post embarrassing status updates.  There were regular prizes of £1,000 for people who were prepared to take them on.  Examples of the sorts of updates that would be posted were references to peeing yourself – the worst that could happen was apparently posting that you had run out of loo paper and had used the cardboard tube.

 

 

But it could fall in love with you...

 

I mean, it’s childish, but harmless......

Until one mum noticed that her daughter had been googling for an explanation of this update “I watched 2 Girls, 1 Cup and was peckish afterwards”.

I’m pausing the action here to explain my interest in this.

I have a baby daughter – 10 months old – and I’m also a semi-regular Mumsnetter.  The whole business of parenting is a somewhat tricky science, and I find myself casting back to my own childhood a great deal to provide guidance on how I should handle things.  But when it comes to the internet, I draw a complete blank.  I didn’t even see my first web page until I was 20.  I have no personal experience of how children and young people use the internet.

Social networking is a particular worry.  The day after my daughter was born, the papers were full of the Vanessa George story – the woman who had abused babies in her care at a nursery.  She had never done anything like this before but was egged on by a man she met on Facebook.   That’s how influential a social networking site can be on the vulnerable.  And it scares the bejesus out of me.

Back to the story.

Do you need me to tell you what “2 Girls, 1 Cup” is?  The politest way to describe it is lesbian coprophilia......

 

 

Let’s wash that image out of your mind

This was one savvy mum – Mumsnetters are.  She knew what this was and she saw the status update very soon after it was posted.  She complained to Coca Cola (who rather weirdly offered her tickets to the theatre as ‘compensation’.  Eh?) and then posted about the incident on Mumsnet.  The thread quickly took on a life of its own and the mothers mobilised to get the story into the press.  Coca Cola were forced to withdraw the promotion the following day.

The case raises a number of issues for those who are thinking about using social media as a marketing tool.

Where should the line be drawn between what teenagers find amusing and what they really shouldn’t be exposed to?  Should Dr Pepper have required that vulnerable teenagers make their Facebook pages public (required to enter the promotion)?

But I think the main lesson that social networking marketers should learn from this is the classic lesson that marketers through the ages have always had to learn – know your audience.

And in the case of marketing to children and young people, you need to market to the parents as well.  After all, where do you think children get their money from to spend on your products?

Looked at from a marketing, rather than a parental angle, I can appreciate what Dr Pepper were trying to do.  They were referencing something notoriously disgusting and affecting an unusual response to it.  If you know the reference – even if you haven’t seen the film – and are reasonably au fait with internet porn – then that’s quite funny.

The mistake that Dr Pepper’s brand agency made was assuming that their target market are savvy Internet users in the same way that they are; that they would ‘get’ the reference.  If they were marketing a product that appeals mostly to Internet users, it would be quite a good tactic.  But it completely fails if your product is a major ‘offline’ brand that appeals to a very broad range of people.

Just because all of these people are using the Internet to take part in the promotion, doesn’t mean that they’re an Internet user in the same way that someone who works for a brand agency is.  It doesn’t mean that they’re familiar with all the Internet memes.  It doesn’t mean that they must have used the Internet to view porn.  It doesn’t mean that they understand the dangers inherent in making your Facebook profile public.

The bigger fail may yet become apparent.

The whole point of building a brand is that people should associate positive themes with it and grow to trust it.

For parents who are wary of the negative effects of social networking on their children but who don’t want to ban it entirely, a promotion run by a major brand that they trust should be an acceptable shortcut to constantly monitoring what their children are doing online.  If Coca-Cola – the world’s biggest brand – can’t be trusted with their children’s online safety or to protect them from inappropriate content, then who can?  Better, perhaps, to just turn Facebook, MySpace and all the others off, just to be sure..........

 

 

Too far?

Photo credits:

Purple shock - pfaff on Flickr

Loo love - Annie in Beziers on Flickr

Waterfall - mpancha on Flickr

The slots - Vadim Bulitko on Picasa

Tin hat cat - jeffhall2069 on Flickr

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8 Comments

  1. At the back of my mind I cant help but wonder if the whole thing has been concocted by Dr. Pepper & Lean Mean fighting machine.. regardless of the fall out, it is at the end of the day 'on brand''whats the worst that can happen'.

    Most of the discussion here is about how shocking it is, but actually i dont know anyone who is genuinely offended (note the 14 year old couldnt actually see the video). I wonder if this is in the 'all publicity is good publicity camp'.. if Lean Mean Fighting Machine get reappointed in 6 months i think we'll know, they are a well respected agency and they know their social media onions..

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  2. When your SERPs turn into a shitstorm... the phrase "That's not gone well" comes to mind.

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  3. Maybe. But it seems a bit reckless to sacrifice the long-term benefits of having a brand that people trust for a bit of short-term headline grabbing. It didn't make that much of a splash in any case, probably because most of the mainstream media didn't fancy having to explain the term.......

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  4. Hate to be a stickler here, but I'm fairly certain that Coca Cola does not own the Dr. Pepper brand. In May 2008, Cadbury Schweppes spun off Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages into an independent company, called the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

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    • Hey Daniel, I thought the same thing too. But in Europe, Dr. Pepper is owned by Coke. In the US it is owned by Cadbury Schwepps/Dr Pepper Snapple. I looked it up. :) Unless Wikipedia is wrong ... and ... yeah ... :)

  5. They've probably overstepped the line a little bit here...

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  6. @sarah.. I'm not sure what damage has been done to the brand.. their demographic is clearly a youth market.. my 14 year old self would have thought this was actually quite cool and this would have drawn me to the brand.. Mums are offended but the target audience arent.. so where is the long term (if any) damage.

    within the demographic this has spread virally with huge sucess, the fact that mums are offended can only make the brand seem cooler in the eyes of the teenager.

    If it hasnt made much of a splash (though it was covered by the Guardian, telegraph etc. ) then there is no damage to the brand to speak of.. I can only see positive effects for the brand within its demographic..

    I'm not normallly one for conspiracy theory, but it is just possible that this is a brilliant piece of marketing, after all LMFM mission is:

    -- Mission --
    To be the most creative digital advertising agency in the world

    Maybe they did cock this up, or maybe there just as brilliant as their reputation says they are..

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  7. @Dan and @Kate - As I seem to recall (as a bit of a Dr. Pepper fanatic) this used to be a very regional thing and from the looks of the Wikipedia entry still is.

    It is mostly a bottling issue, but I always was baffled why in some states it seemed those with Pepsi fountains had Dr. Pepper and in others only those with Coke fountains had Dr. Pepper.

    As Kate points out, though, it is under the Coca Cola umbrella here in Europe.

    Unless things have changed in Maine (my home state) then I believe Dr. Pepper is still managed and distributed by Pepsi. There is a bit more information on this on the Dr. Pepper site (http://www.drpeppersnapplegroup.com/about/bottling-distribution/) but not too much.

    The bottom line, for this article at least, however is the point that Coca-Cola hired the social media company in charge of this hiccup and are responsible for the brand for most of Europe.

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