A film about the love that dare not speak its name

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.



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5 responses to “A film about the love that dare not speak its name

  1. Sarah Waite

    Impressive acting and great tension. I quite like the idea of Dr. Pepper being the anti-coke.
    It certainly kept me guessing – ‘coming out’… anti-violence… bullying? Although after a while I def felt like it was something commissioned.
    (I’m not sure I buy that Dr. Pepper/an ad agency had no involvement.)

    Overall I thought it was a little too long and found the end a little disappointing.
    As well as it’s made, are people really going to forward this it on? (And I mean PEOPLE, not ad-men.)

  2. amy schachter

    I say
    1) It’s not advertising if it isn’t the manufacturer’s film
    2) Nicely produced
    3) It is way too long–joke was over in 3 minutes
    4) You could have put anything –Ring Dings–in place of Dr. P and you wouldn’t have to change a thing–a weakness, I think
    5) Where did you find this?

  3. Stephen Rothman

    Hi Amy, thanks for commenting! I guess you’re right, it isn’t officially advertising if the manufacturer didn’t produce it. But if it spreads virally, whether it comes from the manufacturer or not probably becomes irrelevant. If the social web feels it’s worth spreading, people will see it and it will effect their image of Dr. Pepper, for better or for worse. I doubt anyone will care, or ask, where it came from (aside from us communications nuts). Not sure about the Ring Dings. Perhaps it could be a bit more crafted around Dr. Pepper, but I still think there’s the dimension of standing up for the quirky vs. the standard choice of flavor (i.e. Dr. Pepper vs. mainstream cola). That’s not a generic blank into which you could place any product or brand.

  4. Stephen Rothman

    P.S. to Amy — a link to the film was posted on a comment from Susan Fitzgerald in my blog post from last week.

  5. Stephen Rothman

    Hi Sarah — it wasn’t made by Dr. Pepper’s agency, but it was indeed made by an agency guy. I guess time will tell if (real) people will pass it on. I agree that asking 7 minutes of people’s attention for a video on the internet, especially when they don’t know what it’s about, is a stretch. Think I’ll start tracking it on Google Alerts, if that’s possible.

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