Dr Pepper has incited fury among Creationist Christians, after posting a Facebook poster showing the ‘evolution of flavor’ for its flagship brand, in a tongue-in-cheek twist on the evolutionary 'March of Progress’.
The three-stage graphic (pictured right) shows an ape in a first ‘Pre-Pepper’ phase, before a ‘Pepper Discovery’ stage shows another human forbear with a Dr Pepper can on a rock: ‘Pepper Discovery’.
The final ‘Post-Pepper’ phase shows a modern day human drinking from a can of the soft drink, in what is clearly intended as a humorous take on the iconoclastic image representing human evolution.
The poster also carries the slogan ‘Evolution of Flavor’, then immediately below this: ‘A one of a kind schematic brought to you by Dr Pepper.’
For those not in the know (I think you all are), Creationist Christians take the Bible literally, and do not believe that human beings evolved from animals.
Brilliantly clever or brain dead?
What do I think? Well, I’m a business journalist covering the beverage industry, and I don’t want to mock people’s deeply held beliefs, or bore you by banging on about my own. It’s not in the job remit.
But I will admit that I’m not a Creationist. I also get mad at some things. But not posters like this.
I suppose the key question for any big brand – and let’s face it, big brands do play on deeply held cultural and philosophical beliefs to sell sodas, cars, vacations – is whether branding or advertising invites hatred, ridicule or contempt upon a group with deeply held beliefs.
If that is the case then one should junk it, be it brilliantly clever or simply brain dead. Use that USB-powered missile launcher and shoot that strategy paper right at the nearest corporate trash can.
Should Dr Pepper have done so here? Well, I don’t think so, although there’s clearly a fine line between humor (which involves irony, satire) and offense, so I’m keen to hear your thoughts.
To start with, is it not possible to turn things round and claim that Dr. Pepper’s ‘schematic’ pokes gentle fun at a key image used to represent Darwin’s ideas, accepted by many in Western culture?
Anger on Facebook...
And that’s just the point. Presented with a tongue-in-cheek poster with one cryptic statement, not directed to any specific group – and simply referencing a belief set, and why not Marxism or the idea that the earth is flat? – I find some of today’s foam-flecked Facebook fury baffling.
Nonetheless, this row shows how debates concerning religion infiltrate every area of life, including food, and how quickly viral marketing campaigns can go global and attract boycott or fan groups among like-minded people, who can connect more easily.
With this in mind, viral marketers for big companies need to tread carefully when deciding whether a particular campaign for a drink is more likely to attract consumer vomit or be seen by them as vogue.
Whether the folks in the Dr Pepper boardroom evolved or are the result of a real life 'creationist' event performed by a divinity, the main rationale for such a company campaign was clearly the desire to shift soda. It remains to be seen how this particular brand backlash evolves.
Anyway, here’s a flavor of the Facebook debate as of today, with users either pro- or anti-Pepper.
1.‘If you are a true Christian, you will share this. Dr Pepper displayed an advertisement on their Facebook page endorsing evolution.
As a Christian I find this very disappointing, and this is my formal promise never to drink Dr. Pepper or any of its sister brands, which include Snapple and 7UP.
2. ‘Not drinking DP for a while, I don’t support evolution. Creation is the way to go’
3. ‘YEAH WELL IF GOD ISN’T REAL HOW COME A CAN OF DR.PEPPER FITS IN MY HAND. Checkmate Atheists.’
4. ‘I’m a bleeding heart liberal, but I find this advertisement to be very offensive regardless of whether evolution be true or false.’
1.‘Listen, you angry birds out there. It’s just a soft drink and a funny advert. No need to feel world peace is disturbed by this advert.’
2.‘I’m a Christian. I like Dr.Pepper. I don’t see anything wrong here.’
3. ‘We are supposed to respect hardcore Christians for their beliefs, but they cannot respect those of us who believe in evolution for ours. Key word: respect.’
4.‘This ad was not created to offend anybody. If it was, tell me why a multi-billion dollar company would risk its name to do so. Because it is not saying that evolution is real or fake.
‘If it said ‘God sucks – drink Dr. Pepper’, then yes that is wrong. Calm down and don’t get offended so easily over something that other people believe.’