The Armchair Rhetorician

To Diet Dr. Pepper We Say: 7-Up Yours! (h2so4 14)

Diet Dr. Pepper is a yummy drink, and indeed it does, as its ads assure us, taste more like regular Dr. Pepper [assuming we understand:than Diet Coke tastes like Coke or Diet Pepsi like Pepsi, though 7-UP and Sprite might give it a run for its money on that account.Not to mention that the slogan as it stands is nonsensical. “Tastes more like regular Dr. Pepper.” Of course it does! It is Diet Dr. Pepper, and thus is bound to taste more like regular Dr. Pepper than, say, Pepsi, coffee or mustard!].

Not that I really drink diet soft drinks. Being more of a sugar addict than a caffeine enthusiast, I stick to the real stuff. Nonetheless, surrounded as I am by those who think the difference between 1 calorie and 140 is all-important (they always insist that regular carbonated beverages are simply too sugary. I ask: then why aren’t they drinking iced tea or something that doesn’t need bizarre chemical concoctions to make it resemble something sugary?—I know, I know, it is because, like a vegetarian who still wants a burger and so eats BOCA, the diet soda drinker longs for the days when 140 calories meant nothing and so diet drinks function as a kind of bubbly nostalgia for youth, even when the consumer has long since convinced him- or herself that he or she prefers dietsodas), I have tasted just about every diet beverage known to western man, and thus am qualified to comment on comparisons of diet to “regular” beverages, the fake sugar to the real.

My point is this: Diet Dr. Pepper’s advertising campaign is based on an assumed nostalgia for days when drinking “regular” soft drinks did not reflect some form of moral failure to avoid excess calorie intake. Not only that. The form of this nostalgia is telling: a sleazy lawyer-type makes faulty arguments based on the assumption that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes so much like regular Dr. Pepper that any legal claim brought to bear with regard to Diet Dr. Pepper must be wrong because it has mistaken it for a diet beverage when it clearly tastes like a non-diet beverage. This is clearly a faulty argument. In Rhetoric we call it “begging the question” or, for the Latin types, Petitio Principii: assuming in an argument’s premise that the conclusion is already proved, or, assuming a premise that requires as much proof as the conclusion (normally, the premise is supposed to be “self-evident” and function as support for the less self-evident conclusion).If we were to lay the argument out in a syllogism, this might make more sense for those unused to thinking in terms of deductive reasoning:

Major Premise: If you’re blaming Diet Dr. Pepper for your legal claim, you must be wrong because it might be regular Dr. Pepper “who” is at fault (in other words, Diet Dr. Pepper tastes a helluva lot like regular Dr. Pepper).

Minor Premise: You are indeed blaming Diet Dr. Pepper.

Conclusion: You must be wrong! (because Diet Dr. Pepper tastes a helluva lot like regular Dr. Pepper).

The conclusion cannot be persuasive here because the premises that support it are faulty. This is the kind of argument at times used to prove the existence of God: God exists because it says so in the Bible, which I know is true because God wrote it. The premise that is supposed to build up to proving the existence of God assumes the existence of God.

Major Premise: If God “wrote” it, it is true.

Minor Premise: God wrote the Bible

Conclusion: Therefore, the Bible is true (and the Bible tells us God exists, therefore He does!)

Now, I am nearly the last person to claim that an argument must be logical. Especially when it comes to faith or love or God or the like, the limits of logic say more than the rules might. If you need to have it proven logically, you have missed the point, in such cases. But we’re talking Diet Dr. Pepper here. These are some of the assumptions behind the ad campaign: 1) no one drinks diet soft drinks because they like them for what they are, only for what they imitate; 2) lawyers use sleazy tricks to win cases; 3) if two things taste alike, any charge brought to bear on one of those things must be the fault of the other thing and therefore wrong. All of these assumptions can be proven to be wrong on some level, though 1) and 2) are at least sometimes true, and 3) is simply silly, and perhaps that’s OK because this is just a whimsical ad for a soft drink.But what exactly about this ad is supposed to “sell” us on Diet Dr. Pepper? You can bet that it is supposed to be one of the above assumptions. Well, which is it? Who do they think drinks Diet Dr. Pepper, to be persuaded or entertained by such a thing, and do you want to be known to be in that target group? Might we say: 7-UP yours?