The XX Factor

Diet Pepsi and the Politics of Skinny

Marketers have long attempted to sell women empowerment by way of their products – You’ve come a long way, baby and all that. Very often, there’s a not-so-subtle commingling of the notions of beauty and empowerment. Virginia Slims, after all, are eponymously slender (as are its models), with the implied promise of conferring the same on consumers. The Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” of recent years does the same thing much more subtly, appearing to celebrate real women (God, I’m so sick of that ad word, celebrate ) while still implying an imperfection that necessitates use of its products.

Diet Pepsi has now come out with a taller and thinner “Skinny Can” tied to New York’s Fall Fashion Week. “Our slim, attractive new can is the perfect complement to today’s most stylish looks,” one of the company’s execs says in the stilted language of the press release. ( Slate ’s own Simon Doonan is doing a window installation featuring the cans in SoHo.) The copy calls the can’s design “sassier” (marketers, please put sassy to bed; it feels very ‘90s) and says the new design is a “celebration of beautiful, confident women.” Same old story – aspirational, looks-oriented advertising with a thin layer of faux-empowerment on top. If you’re confident on the inside, you’ll be skinny on the outside, or something. Huh?

This approach feels more tone-deaf than it used to. Consumers exposed to the Dove campaign and countless debates on model over-thinness want a more sophisticated argument these days. We expect to hear lip service paid to the world’s diversity of beauty, even if it’s only that. Though perhaps it won’t matter – the Skinny Can may not be noticed much by consumers. Even as PepsiCo says it will be available nationwide in March, the company is keeping the old, fat can on the shelves. The Skinny Can appears to be positioned as a novelty. There’s no pretense that this tastes any different, after all.