Commodity Fetishism and Images of Masculinity: A Comparison of Old Spice and Dr Pepper Ten Ad Campaigns

During the First World War, advertising took a turn from trying to persuade people to buy a product based upon the product’s attributes and instead started taking a more psychological turn in their campaigns (Williams, 418). While hyped up promises still found their way onto the scene, more and more advertisers began pitching an image of what we could be instead of what we were, and the concept that the product they were pitching was the thing to get us to that place. Television ads now routinely “‘fetishize commodities’ and the act of purchasing commodities…Because humans have other needs besides the material…advertisers have to symbolically link other personal, social, and cultural values to the product” (McAllister, 220).

This is evident in all kinds of advertising: the right kind of shoe will help you get the body you want in order to be attractive to the opposite (or your target) sex; children’s toys are a way to reach a utopian world where children have the power; good tasting yogurt, or fiber bars, are a way to be more clever than your clueless husband; sports cars give you both power and freedom; iPhones allow you to be both trendy and technologically advanced—part of the in-crowd (McAllister, 221). Sometimes these symbolic links are subtle—a person could take many different values from a commercial. Other times they are not. Some of the most blatant series of symbolic links made in commercials are those which reaffirm societal gender roles.

Commercials for housecleaning products nearly always show women doing the work—or men bumbling and messing things up and then able to get it clean before the woman comes home, because the product is so easy to use (which just reaffirms that the idea of keeping a clean house is a value of women, and their domain). Cereal and other food commercials attempting to say they are nutritious for children focus on mothers and that good mothers would feed this to their children because they care. Almost all food commercials for store-bought food appeal to women. This has its place and purpose, as the majority of women do the shopping for their households, so appealing to the purchaser is more important sometimes than appealing to the end consumer (the children, in these cases) (Heller).

On the opposite side of this is the recent surge of ads appealing to men with images of hyper-masculinity (CBS news segment). This appeal is most often seen in beer ads, such as Miller Lite’s “Man up” campaign, which tend to belittle men as “not manly” if they do not drink the right kind of light beer. However, two ads in the last two years have both gotten a lot of buzz for doing exactly this sort of thing—one successfully and one, seemingly, less so. These campaigns are Old Spice’s body wash campaign featuring Isaiah Mustafa and the relatively new Doctor Pepper 10 campaign. Both ads feature images (albeit different ones) of a hyper-masculinity. Both have their own social media campaign. In some ways, they seem to be following the same path.  But reception to the two campaigns has been markedly different. What this paper attempts to do is analyze why.

Old Spice

The new Old Spice campaign features Isaiah Mustafa as the “Old Spice Guy” (technically, the campaign calls him Old Spice Man, but the common vernacular has made him “Old Spice Guy,” and that is the most Googled term so I go with that in this discussion). In various commercials, Old Spice Guy directly addresses women with a “Hello, ladies,” and goes on to ask them various questions about their men, cutting rapidly from scene to scene indicating all of the things that he does that your man might not, but maybe could at least smell like he could do if he used Old Spice. The things in the commercial are stereotypical female fantasies—a guy who looks fantastic, who buys tickets to the things you love and showers you with diamonds, who can build a kitchen and bake a cake, who takes you on picnics after rowing you in a boat and who takes you on luxurious vacations. The tagline is “anything is possible when your man smells like an Old Spice man.”

Beyond the televised commercials, the campaign includes a You Tube channel ( where Old Spice Guy responds to people from his Twitter page ( answering questions they pose, and posts special videos for “ladies” around the world, celebrities and other companies—Ellen Degeneres, Matt Lauer, Demi Moore, Huffington Post and Starbucks have replies from Old Spice Guy. He and Alyssa Milano engaged in public flirting for most of one day, delighting their mutual fans (The Marquee Blog). The current campaign there is for Old Spice Manta Claus—and he is on a mission to give “gifts” (videos) to as many people around the world as possible. He maintains his image as the guy all women want, giving advice or the pleasure of just a response to women who want to hear more from him.

The YouTube Channel has 291,670 subscribers, which is impressive, and individual videos have views in the millions. The Old Spice Facebook page has 1,778,645 “likes” and when accessed today, 43,312 people were talking about the campaign. On Twitter, Old Spice has 169,382 followers. According to CBS, citing Ad Week, sales for Old Spice Body Wash increased by over 100% (CBS News). By any stretch of the imagination, the campaign worked, and is still working, as the newest Christmas videos already have an impressive amount of views. In the first 10 pages of a Google search of “Old Spice Guy” there is nothing critical said about him or the campaign. The question of whether the ads are sexist was raised when they first aired, but to find those you have to Google for them specifically…and the outrage by those who thought so was minor. Even—notorious feminist blog—approves of Old Spice Guy (Jefferson). Daily Femme—another feminist blog—does, as well, going so far as to defend them against the claims of sexism, saying that they acknowledge they are representing a fantasy, and do have a valid point of sensory appeal (Annamarya). It is fair to conclude then, that any individuals who were offended were not so much so that it hurt the brand. Sales went up, and the campaign continues.

But what about the latest addition to the land of hyper-masculine commercials?

Dr Pepper Ten

Dr Pepper recently released a new diet soda—though they are not calling it that. Dr Pepper Ten is made with two grams of sugar, not artificial sweeteners, and so it has only ten calories per serving, as opposed to regular Dr Pepper, which has 100. Diet sodas have traditionally been marketed to women, often with images of hyper-sexuality involved, or strong gendered stereotypes. For instance, Diet Coke had a slightly infamous commercial campaign with women taking a “Diet Coke” break in order to gawk at a shirtless construction worker ( Dr Pepper allegedly did a study that found that men do not drink diet soda because it appears “girly” (though no evidence of this study has been produced anywhere—it has merely been offered in interviews as justification for the campaign) (Pynchon). Therefore, Dr Pepper decided to launch its new soda marketed exclusively toward men.

A lot of products are gender-targeted, as we have already mentioned, but Dr Pepper has gone a step farther than that. The new soda’s tagline is “Not for Women.” The commercial itself, like the Old Spice Commercials, is ostensibly addressing women. In fact, it goes so far as to start out, “Hey, ladies.” The scene is that of a man running through the jungle, shooting lasers at other men, cutting off heads of snakes, jumping into moving cars, etc—basically emulating an action film. The text runs as follows: “Hey ladies, enjoying the film? Of course not. Because this is our movie. And Dr Pepper Ten is our soda. It’s only ten manly calories, but with all 23 flavors of Dr Pepper. It’s what guys want! Like this! Catch phrase. So, you can keep the romantic comedies and lady drinks. We’re good. Dr Pepper Ten: It’s not for women!” (

The campaign comes along with a Facebook app which includes games, quizzes and videos. The banner at the top reads, “Welcome, gentlemen, to the manliest tab on Facebook. A lady-free zone of rugged, macho, hair-on-your chest awesomeness that’s definitely not for women” ( And they mean that “definitely not for women.” The app is designed that if you try to access it logged in from a woman’s account on Facebook, you are blocked. A note pops up that says that the games, quizzes and videos are not for women, and then the content is blocked out. When I tried this, I got a glimpse of the content before I was blocked. It includes a quiz titled “Are You Man Enough?” Also included are a shooting game encouraging men to “shoot the lady stuff” like high heels and lipstick, a “videos for men” section and another video that has a female figure with a line drawn through her and a “restricted” label.

Unlike the favorable reception of the Old Spice campaign, the Dr Pepper Ten campaign has ignited a whirlwind of controversy. Instead of a lot of Facebook “likes,” the soda has incited several Facebook pages calling for a boycott of the soda. Three petitions have been launched on calling for the company to pull the ads. The blogosphere has erupted with analyses of the sexism of the ad, debating whether its tongue-in-cheek irony (which is what CEO Larry Young claims the ad is) goes too far. The National Organization for Women has put the commercial in their Media Hall of Shame (Lederer). Despite Larry Young’s claim that consumers are “thrilled to death” with the ad and the product, the numbers are not backing him up (Bouckley). The YouGov BrandIndex declared that the campaign may be backfiring with both genders. The BrandIndex measures products buzz score—the perception held of the brand by various demographics. On the day the campaign launched, Dr Pepper’s buzz score fell from 21.5 to 16.4 for men, and from 32.9 to 18.4 (Marzilli). This drop was gleefully reported by the blogs, from Jezebel to Marketing Daily to PolicyMic to Smart Money (individual articles listed in works cited, for anyone interested).

However, despite the outcry and citing promising performance of Dr Pepper Ten (though no numbers have yet been released), Dr Pepper Snapple Group is choosing to keep the campaign going and expanding their ten calorie soda push into other sodas in their group (Ziobro). However, while they are keeping the male-centric marketing with Dr Pepper, they intend to expand the marketing for the other five sodas to a broader audience (Thompson).

So why the outrage over this ad and not Old Spice’s campaign?


There is no doubt that both ads are appealing to a hyper-masculine depiction of the male gender. The social value they are peddling is a vision of masculinity—buy/use/drink this product and you will be more manly. The two visions of manhood are at odds, in some ways. While both are hyper-masculine, they focus on different virtues—and different gazes. The Old Spice commercials are clearly meant for the female gaze. Old Spice Guy is handsome, well groomed, well spoken and well-built. He is at home doing super-macho things like building kitchens and with more “feminine” things like baking a cake. He appeals to a stereotypical female fantasy—with riding horses and rowing on lakes and sailing on boats. He is the image of the upper-class, well-rounded, can do anything you might possibly want him to do man. He looks like he could have stepped right off of a romance novel cover—and he knows it. He’s confident to the point of being cocky, but the commercials keep it focused on the fact that he does all this, is all of this in order to please the ladies. Old Spice Guy attempts (through various commercials) to be the ideal guy for every straight woman (or gay man, possibly, though the commercials don’t go there). He gets the bad boy vibe going with being in leather on a motorcycle and the caring guy going with baking a cake and implications that he is always happy to listen to your problems.

In addition, the ad appeals to our more primitive senses, beyond the illusions, of smell. There is something guys should smell like, and it shouldn’t be “lady-scented body washes.” On some intrinsic level, most people would probably agree with this. It isn’t that there is anything wrong with “lady scented body wash.” The ad never implies that these are somehow lesser.  There is no implication within the ad that women are somehow lesser. While the ad fully and utterly buys into the idea that men and women are different in some basic way—that is a statement that the majority of society would agree with. Instead of being derogatory toward this, the ad merely plays into it and says men should smell like men—or like Old Spice. Since spice scents are some of those which studies reveal appeal to women, this is a scientifically based claim. Women are turned off by fruity smells on guys, according to at least one study (Bongiorno).

On a more semiotic basis, then, the Old Spice ad chose one syntagm made up of paradigms which are meant to appeal to women. They chose a clean-shaven man over a scruffy one; a well-built man over a flabby one; images of romanticism rather than sports and ruggedness. From these images, they recreated what is seen often enough as a woman’s fantasy to be stereotypical. While it does reinforce some traditional gender roles, it neither emasculates men nor devalues women. In the reinforcement of traditional gender roles, it could be claimed to be sexist, but it seems (from popular opinion) to escape that, because Old Spice Guy does non-stereotypical male things, as well, such as listen, bake, buy things women love, pay attention to their wants—all of which make up the female fantasy of a perfect man. Of course, there is a problem, for some, in that construction, that all women may not want such a man—but it was tongue-in-cheek in the best way (even down to his overly-sexy, yet ironic, tone) that it struck the right balance, even with hard-core feminists who often take exception to things many do not notice.

Dr Pepper Ten went the other way with their semiotic choices. Instead of appealing to the female fantasy, they appealed to the male. While the commercial does start off with an intertextual nod to Old Spice Guy (“hey, ladies” instead of “hello, ladies”) it immediately starts to tear down the image that Old Spice built. The “hey” instead of “hello” is a verbal paradigm—one which signals casual over formal, and potentially the vernacular over the high-brow. The man in the commercial is rugged, instead of svelte. He speaks with his own sort of irony, but adds a somewhat condescending tone. The well-modulated tones of Old Spice Guy have been replaced with rhythms reflective of how men might speak to each other or down at the bar. It is dismissive instead of inviting (“Enjoying the film? Of course not.”). It denies women the possibility of entering into this world of action stars and adventure, telling them to stay with the romantic comedies (despite the high number of women who enjoy action movies). Instead of a man who cares about pleasing women, we are given a man who dismisses them, focused on images of violence and cool toys (nets to catch the bad guys, triggered by a thrown can) instead of romance and more natural adventures (diving into a cool lake below). [Interestingly, though not further discussed at this time, the Old Spice commercial also introduced a racial equality into the equation by making Old Spice Guy a black man—meant to appeal to all women—while the Dr Pepper guy is white, like so many traditional action stars. As a further note on the success of using a black man in the campaign—when Fabio was posited as the New Old Spice Man and challenged Mustafa to an internet duel, 76% of voters preferred Mustafa (Friar).]

Instead of clean and well groomed, the man in the Dr Pepper Ten commercial is unshaven and sloppily dressed in camouflage. The syntagm constructed is that of a man’s man doing manly things and drinking a manly drink in a world where women are not welcome, as opposed to a manly man doing fantastical and romantic things to invite women to step closer and into his world. It speaks to the male fantasy of a world without women—unless they are wanted for sex or to cook for them. The games on the Facebook app go so far as to include shooting at symbols of women and femininity, truly eradicating them from the gaze. If the Old Spice commercial is indicative of a female fantasy, the Dr Pepper Ten commercial is indicative of a stereotypical male one.

On a marketing level, there is a potential misstep here, of course, in the fact that they are advertising a product that studies show women would be the primary purchasers for. Single men, obviously, do their own shopping and make their product choices, but women are still the primary shoppers in this country, who make the primary buying decisions. Thus, Old Spice in appealing to its purchasers, if not its consumers, hit a home run. Dr Pepper Ten, however, is deliberately excluding those same purchasers—the person who likely makes the most buying decisions for what sodas get into the house and what do not (Heller). It is still too soon to tell how this will affect their overall sales, but it seems a risky move both to me and most commentators. Other ads have managed to appeal to a male demographic—that is not where the offense seems to lie. An action packed commercial talking about “10 bold calories” (instead of “10 manly calories—what are manly calories anyway?) and how it’s not a “diet” drink could still have targeted a male audience, the same way Miller Lite ads do (CBS News). Admittedly, perhaps the campaign was intended to introduce some reverse psychology—by telling women the drink was not for them, perhaps more would buy it—but if the Buzz Scores are anything to go by, it may still have misfired.

Beyond the potential marketing mistake in consumer vs. shopper demographics, is there another misstep here? Is the lack of outrage over—in fact outright embracing of—the Old Spice commercials while demonizing the Dr Pepper Ten commercials a privileging of the female gaze over the masculine? Are our very reactions to the two commercials sexist? Perhaps, but I do not think so, except in the manner that reinforcing gender stereotypes can always be seen as sexist. What Dr Pepper Ten does wrong, that Old Spice does not, is in its exclusion of one gender, its privileging not just of their gaze, but of their personhood. When you take your campaign so far that half the population of the world cannot even access your app without going through their male friends or family members’ Facebook account—you have gone from tongue-in-cheek marketing to true exclusion. Yes, women can buy the product from the store without a clerk refusing them, but they have been made by the campaign to feel like second rate citizens, harkening back to when women were excluded from the workplace. Several commentators have asked the question of whether there would be more outrage if the ad featured people doing stereotypical Redneck things and then had a tagline of “not for blacks,” or heterosexual couples doing romantic things with the tagline “Not for gays.” Ultimately, the ad is just as exclusionary to women as if it did say these potentially more problematic statements. In fact, you can be sure that a “Not for blacks” campaign would ensure more than one civil suit, no matter if freedom of speech allows private companies to say prejudicial things, so long as they do not physically exclude someone based upon race. So is it any better, any different, to exclude women? Can saying it is tongue-in-cheek and women are being oversensitive really make it all okay?

I don’t think so. Old Spice Guy may play into gender stereotypes—both of men, and of what women want from a man—but it really is a situation where everyone is in on the joke. It invites both women and men in to share the joke as the commercials and videos get ever more extreme in their melding of both machismo and charm. There is no world in which guys like Old Spice Guy exist. Sadly, the vision of the world Dr Pepper Ten wants to invoke—where women are excluded and banished to watching romantic comedies and drinking their “lady drinks”—is one that has existed in the not too recent past.

However, some attempt to explain commercials as need by men to reclaim their domain—for the first time in U.S. History women are dominating both the workforce and the managerial positions (Pynchon). Some researchers have claimed that masculinity is truly in distress in America. “The most shocking of all the gender-war statistics is this – in fertility clinics across the nation, 75% of couples are requesting girls. Over two thousand years of the first-born male baby craze is rapidly dying out, along with the male prerogative of economic dominance” (Pynchon). They claim that the ad is just one more instance pointing to important cultural and economic issues in America today (Pynchon). However, when the backlash of feminine power is to once again attempt to exclude them, instead of embracing a new paradigm that we create together, there is a problem. Old Spice Guy pokes fun at our images of masculinity and strength, but it includes everyone, even if it’s addressed to “Hello, ladies.” It can make us question those images and stereotypes and engage in productive discussions about what makes a man and what women may, or may not, want from them, and what they want for themselves. With its exclusionary language and campaign, Dr Pepper Ten takes us backward, and the only discussion it evokes is voiced with outrage or dismissal of that outrage as “silly” and points us toward a cultural clash that does not seem to be taking us anywhere good.

Works Cited

Annamarya. “Why I Love the Old Spice Commercials.” Daily Femme. July 12, 2010. Web. December 6, 2011.

Bongiorno, Lori. “Scents That Men and Women Like and Dislike.” Yahoo Green. August 3, 2010. Web. December 8, 2011.

Bouckley, Ben. “Consumers ‘Thrilled to Death’ with Dr Pepper Ten, CEO Insists.” Beverage October 31, 2011. Web. December 8, 2011.

Carville, Matty. “Sexism and Soda: Dr. Pepper’s New Ad Campaign a Failure.” PolicyMic. Web. December 8, 2011.

CBS News. ““Macho Ads Targeting Men Going Too Far?”  October 13, 2011. Web. December 6, 2011. (Article:; Video: )

Friar, Christine. “New Old Spice Guy Fabio Challenges Isaiah Mustafa to a Duel.” Huffington Post. July 25, 2011. Web. December 8, 2011.

Fottrell, Quentin. “Angry Women is Not What Dr Pepper Ordered.” Smart Money. October 21, 2011. Web. December 1, 2011.

Heller, Laura. “Does Dr Pepper Ten Violate the Rule of Shopper Marketing?” Forbes. October 31, 2011. Web. December 5, 2011.

Jefferson, Whitney. “Old Spice Guy is Now Your ‘Manta Claus’ for the Holidays.” December 6, 2011. Web. December 8, 2011.

Lederer, Anita. “Dr Pepper Ten: Not for Women or the Men Who Respect them.” National Organization for Women. October 19, 2011. Web. December 7, 2011.

Marketing Daily. “Dr Pepper ‘Men Only’ Ads Lowering Buzz Scores.” Media Post. October 21, 2011. Web. December 5, 2011.

The Marquee Blog. “Old Spice Guy and Alyssa Milano Get Flirty On Twitter.” July 15, 2010. Web. December 8, 2011.

Marzilli, Ted. “Dr Pepper Dude Diet Drink Backfires.” YouGov BrandIndex. October 10, 2011. Web. December 5, 2011.

McAllister, Matthew P. “Television Advertising as Textual and Economic Systems.” A Companion to Television. Ed. Janet Wasko (2005).

North, Anna. “Dumb Ads Predictably Hurt Dr Pepper’s Approval Ratings.” Jezebel. October 21, 2011. Web. December 7, 2011.

Pynchon, Victoria. “What Is Dr Pepper’s Facebook Man Cave Saying?” Forbes. October 24, 2011. Web. December 5, 2011.

Thompson, Steven R. “Dr Pepper Snapple Expands 10-calorie Drinks.” Dallas Business Journal. December 5, 2011. Web. December 7, 2011.

Ziobro, Pau. “Dr Pepper Slims Down Five More of Its Sodas.” Wall Street Journal. December 3, 2011. Web. December 7, 2011.