Yesterday afternoon, Dr Pepper posted an image to Facebook depicting human evolution, and now everyone is yelling at one another. This has been a monumental waste of everyone's time. So let's talk about it.
How to start an inane internet flame war in three easy steps:
1. Be a major company with significant social media exposure. Your product needs to be loved by a large and diverse consumer market.
2. Run an advertisement on your facebook page featuring "controversial" subject matter. Extra points for politically/racially/religiously charged material.
3. Wait for flaming to ensue.
Kraft recently did this by supporting gay marriage (with rainbow Oreos). Chick-Fil-A did something similar by denouncing gay marriage (with sandwiches). Now, Dr Pepper has done it by portraying a can of its soda as a key step in the process of human evolution.
But there's an important distinction separating Dr Pepper from Kraft and Chick-Fil-A: the soda company's tongue is planted so firmly in its cheek here that it's practically poking through the other side. This is not about Dr Pepper pronouncing its pro-evolutionary stance, it's about selling soda with some high-concept ad-design. This shit's not even scientifically accurate, for crying out loud; conflating this ad with a pro-evolutionary agenda is insulting to actual concepts surrounding human evolution.
If that analysis seems obvious to you, congratulations. You are capable of dissecting the subtleties of an ad campaign (which, let's face it, really aren't that subtle) that has thrown a considerable segment of the internet into one of the dumbest shouting matches in recent memory.
As of this posting, Dr Pepper's facebook update (titled "The Evolution of Flavor") has been shared over 2,500 times and liked over 25,000 times. The comments, which number in the thousands, are laden with statements like these (this batch curated by HuffPo and Mashable):
- "This is showing the theory of men evolving from apes. I have lost all respect for Dr Pepper and if Dr Pepper wants business from thousands of people they will need to apologize."
- "I love Dr. Pepper but hate this photo. Forget evolution... Jesus all the way!"
- "Well, there goes my support for this company."
Others have, of course, responded. Here's the top comment from reddit's atheism subreddit: "The day your faith gets shaken by a Dr Pepper ad is the day you should probably start reconsidering your faith."
The fact that Dr Pepper's post has incited this much conflict is absolutely dumbfounding, and more than a little depressing. Remember what all this contention is about: an advertisement for a popular soda. That's it. A pretty uninspired ad, to be honest, and a scientifically inaccurate one, at that. The fact that we're arguing about this as opposed to, say, the teaching of actual evolution in our country's schools is mind-boggling. This debate is misguided. The fervor, from just about everyone involved, is hugely and embarrassingly misplaced.
The situation also highlights a strange, if kind of serious, question: has rallying under the banner of different foodstuffs in the name of contentious social issues become a trend in America? By what I sincerely hope is just a weird coincidence, the societal firestorm swirling around this Dr Pepper ad just became the the latest in a string of surprisingly loud arguments over a food or drink company's social, political, or religious leanings. Let's overlook, for just a second, the fact that a large portion of the country has serious doubts about the concept of evolution. That's definitely disconcerting, but also troubling is our apparent inability, as a country, to get riled up about anything that isn't somehow related to stuffing our faces. In South Korea, people fight over whether to include evolution in textbooks. In the U.S., we argue over whether to include it in our soda adverts. Because that's what really matters.