Barbara Lippert’s Critique: The Doctor Is In

While you’ve been worrying about how you’re going to reinvent the ad business, Young & Rubicam has quietly managed to create some big old-fashioned Dr Pepper ads that people are talking about—and, get this, really enjoying. The topper is that there’s nothing remotely edgy or too-cool-for-school about them. Indeed, they employ all the time-honored soft-drink clichés (boy dates girl, boy leaves girl, kids play soccer, Mom in minivan arrives with snacks) in a simple, forward-moving narrative that closely matches the lyrics of the unabashedly big music.

So, what gives? What allows these spots to stand out in a sea of soft-drink work that year after year comes and goes mostly unnoticed?

For the boy-leaves-girl spot, the answer is easy: The magic is in the Meat. That’s Meat Loaf (or Mr. Loaf, as The New York Times calls him), whose song “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” the lead single from his Bat Out of Hell: Back Into Hell comeback album of 1993, electrifies the spot from the first chords on. An emotional monster of a song, “Anything” is as monumental as the man himself. Indeed, Meat uses his mighty pipes to rasp/belt out every word of the soaring, uplifting yet slightly melancholy lyrics. It’s impossible not to want to rasp right back.

Meanwhile, the little drama on the screen matches the unembarrassed heroism of the song, frame for note. We watch as a solid, earnest-type dude, a cross between Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller, dutifully picks up a box of tampons at a drug store and slides on over to the register. (Cut to the pretty girlfriend waiting outside in the car, head sticking out of the window like an eager puppy.) Naturally, the pharmacist has to get on the loudspeaker for a price check. (This is the reverse of the old ’50s condom-purchase scenario.) As the “anything for love” part of the song builds, the über-sensitive guy is shown performing an array of other highly-evolved-type services for his woman, including washing her underwear and attending a yoga class. Keep in mind that at the very same time, the man is extremely close to his can—he’s able to nurture one-handed, as he carries his Dr Pepper around. The 60-second version even features an extended drinking shot.

Finally, the happy couple is shown cuddling on the couch, and she reaches for the can, his other steady companion. That’s when the “but I won’t do that” part kicks in, fast and furious—he keeps the can and ditches her. (In a nice touch, there’s a big “bump” sign in the road in front of her house that he runs over, just as the relationship has hit a bump.) The announcer comes in with, “Fall in love with the rich, bold taste of Dr Pepper. One taste and you get it.”

I love the spot, but my one small cavil is that the cut to the product shot at the very end seems too abrupt. It harshes our complete Meat Loaf mellow. It’s also unnecessary—the creatives figured out a way to make the Pepper omnipresent throughout without being obnoxious.

I don’t love the second spot as much, but it also breaks through. It features the Fountains of Wayne song “Stacy’s Mom,” which I’m kind of tired of. And maybe I am, dare I say, a bit touchy about the subject, since I have a teenage boy. A pack of 12-year-olds are finishing their soccer game as a minivan pulls up. Time stops, and the sky is illuminated, as Mom gets out of the car in slow motion, while the camera ogles her, head to toe. The saving grace is the reveal: She’s not Rachel Hunter in leather (as in the FOW video) but a fairly average woman with hilariously unsexy accessories, like reading glasses on a chain and pom-poms on the back of her ankle socks. She opens the van to expose a giant cooler of Dr Pepper (magnificent product shot!). It turns out there was no innocence lost—this is what the kids have been hubba-hubba-ing about all along.

Having put in my time as a soccer/hockey mom, I can certify that it’s beyond Desperate-Housewives-desperate out there when the moms take turns one-upping each other on snack duty. The kids would no doubt love the Dr Pepper bounty (and it looks mighty refreshing here), but then there would be the inevitable sniping from the health-police parent that they should be drinking Gatorade or water.

A third spot, for both diet and cherry-vanilla Dr Pepper, just cracks me up—and also fearlessly turns the tables on the accepted wisdom that while women tend to natter on, men dream of beer. (Hey, we sometimes tune you out, too!) Here, Mr. Perfect is shown on a date in a restaurant, explaining that he’s continuing his work at the hospital even though he won the lottery. His wide-eyed object of affection stares blankly at him, as she concentrates on sipping her cherry- vanilla concoction through a straw.

And then it happens: the crazy “ma-na ma-na” phenomenon—the garbage-disposal-deep, scratchy-voiced musical refrain from the Muppets (the second part goes de da da-da-da). It drowns out dreamboat’s voice entirely as she drinks, and all the other diners start bopping to that infectious beat just as if they had Bert or Ernie heads. (No actual Muppets are shown—or injured—but the refrain is so powerful that it instantly transports us back to 1969.) “Taste so good, you get lost in it” is the tagline, and suddenly the basso-ma-na-na seems like the only way to explain how profoundly layered the flavor is.

The spots are affectionate but slightly tipsy —which seems to suit the average Dr Pepper drinker’s manic devotion to the sauce—and that connects.

In the end, two are great, one is good. And you know what that means: Two out of three ain’t bad.

Dr Pepper


Young & Rubicam,

New York

Executive creative director

Ann Hayden

Creative directors

Rachel Howald,

Ahmer Kalam

Art directors

Maria Scileppi,

Ahmer Kalam


John Battle,

Rachel Howald

Agency producer

Rich Rosenthal


Stacy Wall/Epoch Films