Are Lady Doritos the problem?

06 : 02 : 2018 Food : Female Futures : Marketing
Muk Bang with Jessica Stam for Vogue Korea Muk Bang with Jessica Stam for Vogue Korea

Lady Doritos... feed into a society that continues to segment women based on sexist presumptions.

Daniela Walker, Foresight editor, The Future Laboratory

PepsiCo are not launching Lady Doritos. Last week, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi fanned speculation when she mentioned on a Freaknomics podcast that the brand was considering making crisps more amenable to female snackers. Nooyi lamented that women ‘don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces, and the flavour, into their mouths.’

With people on the internet quick to fight back and complain that women’s rights had been reduced to cheese-flavoured dust, a spokeswoman backtracked, telling Ad Age: ‘We already have Doritos for women – they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day.’ But of course, there was a caveat: ‘At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve and w’'re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.’

So PepsiCo is not launching Lady Doritos – it cannot, in 2018, be that tone deaf to the conversation on marketing to women. And yet, we are constantly hearing about women-targeted products that are for their palates. A self-proclaimed feminist gin, Pomp & Whimsy, wants to bring ‘fourth-wave feminism’ to the alcohol industry, according to The Spirits Business. The gin is made for ‘our taste, our style, our modern times’. For founder Dr Nicola Nice, ‘female branding, where it exists, is often reductionist, simplifying femininity to purely stereotypical portrayals of women’. And yet, have a guess what colour Pomp & Whimsy is. Millennial Pink gin for the Millennial Pink woman.

Both the idea of Lady Doritos and feminist gin are irksome because they’re both unnecessary and feed into a society that continues to segment women based on sexist presumptions. PepsiCo admits that while it is not necessarily launching explicitly female crisps, it is exploring avenues that will engage consumers in new ways. Does this mean a less crunchy, dusty crisp? One that just happens to appeal to the fairer sex?

From PepsiCo’s point of view, it is merely meeting a consumer demand – its focus groups revealed that women don’t like to be seen eating loudly in public. But this isn’t inherent to being a woman, it is a learned behaviour based on social norms. It follows that 2014 viral story about the Facebook group Women Who Eat On Tubes, where users submitted images of women in various stages of eating in transit. The comment threads were filled with shaming. Women may want a less crunchy crisp, but only because society tells them it is not okay to make noise when eating, that a woman of a certain level of decorum must eat in a delicate and subtle manner.

Of course, there are products that are made for women and women alone. But brands, when beginning product development, need to consider whether they are addressing the needs of women or whether they are upholding outdated assumptions that need dismantling. Rather than working on a Dorito pack that fits in a purse, PepsiCo should celebrate its crisp-eating, finger-licking customer, whoever she may be.

Lab Notes

  • PepisCo’s short-lived proposition of Lady Doritos has many nay-sayers, not least because it made the company seem tone deaf to the more nuanced ways of approaching female-targeted products
  • We will be launching our Female Futures channel on 26 February, where we will explore exactly how brands should be talking to women