My friend and fellow social media blogger Susan Fitzgerald commented on my post from last week with a link to this provocative short film by Richard Herstek. Apparently it has won a number of film awards, but I believe none of them are advertising awards. It runs a bit over seven minutes. At first the story is pretty heavy and you might be tempted to stop watching and move on. But stick with it. I guarantee you’ll end up laughing and be as intrigued as I was. Then do me a favor and read my thoughts about it farther down the page. I’d also really be interested in hearing what you think via a comment.
So what is this thing? Is it advertising? Is it art? I am still trying to figure out how I feel about it.
On the one hand, it is just so well done. The drama and the acting are superb. They carried me along right through to the end, even after the “brutal truth” is revealed. If the production had been of lesser quality, I think I would have stopped watching at that point. But I was too caught up in the moving nature of the scene, as a boy reveals the deep, dark secret of “the love that dare not speak its name” to his mother. It didn’t matter that at this point I knew the secret was that the boy prefers Dr. Pepper, not that he prefers boys! It still continued to move me. Yet I was laughing. That’s what makes this film so masterful and original. At one at the same time, it’s both serious drama and comic parody. All the way through, your brain is going in two different directions at once. But it works.
On the other hand, maybe it’s too well done. A part of me felt cheated, manipulated, like my feelings had been tinkered with. The film had drawn me into a profoundly human conflict. I was certain a serious message was unfolding. And then, suddenly, it turned out to be a parody. A joke. All for the purpose of promoting Dr. Pepper. I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with that. Still, overall, I think it’s brilliant.
Oddly enough, despite this being a thoroughly unconventional way to promote a soft drink, the film for all its edge still follows two elementary advertising principles that every brand manager can spout off. First, make the product essential to the drama. Second, use the drama to position the brand. Pepper adheres to both. There would be no story without the product. And the drama positions Dr. Pepper as the taste of those who march to the beat of a different drum. It calls to mind the 7-Up “un-cola” campaign from years back, but this is so much better. 7-Up advertising simply said the brand was the un-cola. Pepper breaks the conventions of traditional advertising to make you feel that Dr. Pepper is the un-cola, while never actually saying it.
This has cult potential. And if it begins to spread around and get talked about on the social web, that potential may be realized. With business results to go along with it.
The makers have no connection with Dr. Pepper or its owner, Dr. Pepper Snapple group. This raises several questions. Who really owns the brand? What happens when creators unaffiliated with the marketer or its agency, create communication that has as much power as this does? Does the manufacturer embrace it, support it, help spread it, pay for it, ignore it?
This link will take you to a page with the “official” Dr. Pepper spot. It’s vanilla in comparison (even though it features Doctor J). And vanilla is not the taste of Dr. Pepper.