Crisps Almighty!

Crisps almighty! PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi has finally discussed my most pressing concern as a woman. Despite what you think, it’s not protecting access to healthcare, fighting for equal pay, or combating sexual misconduct. Nah. It was those damn overly-cheesy, noisy doritos. But hallelujah! Someone FINALLY mentioned noiseless Lady Doritos that would have come in purse-sized bags, allowing women to be seen eating but not heard.

Now Doritos appears to have steered into the skid, tweeting “We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re loved by millions.” The company wrote the idea off as a bad one from one person within the company and that no such plans to create Lady Doritos actually existed. The conversation has blown over, but it’s only a matter of time before another misguided project finds its way to the Twittersphere’s clutches.

Now I could create a full-blown sarcastic piece about why Lady Doritos and other product unnecessarily marketed exclusively to one gender (looking at you, Bic Pens for Women and Dr. Pepper 10 “Not for Women”) keep being offered as the Next Best Thing. However, I’m a bit late to the punch, and the blog Scary Mommy has the sarcasm covered brilliantly.

What I’m more interested is why these types of products keep getting suggested.

PepsiCo’s CEO’s comment illustrate the dichotomies that men and women are supposed to occupy. Men, grabbing handfuls and munching loudly, are allowed to lick off the cheesy goodness once the entire bag is gone. On the other hand, classy, always diet-conscious women should daintily eat one chip from a kiddie-size lunch pack that they carefully pinch between their thumb and pointer finger, careful not to get any dust on their hands or lips. These are ridiculous expectations, and I personally think both men and women can choose how to best eat their chips in the pajamas on the couch watching rerun television.

Too many companies and their marketing departments rely on gender stereotypes because it’s easy. It’s easy to stick with the flow, showing women exclusively doing housework and men as beer-drinking, truck enthusiasts. Luckily, the world doesn’t work like that, and gender is a spectrum. We just have to get to a point where advertisers do not feel boxed into rehashing traditional gender roles.

That said, attempts to be more inclusive and feminist have often come off a little obvious. When Special K released their latest advertisement that proclaimed women are amazing because “We eat,” some responded with sarcasm, noting that women also pass gas and poop. Yet with a call for Lady Doritos, I now wonder if women don’t need to shout “Women Eat” louder; otherwise, it’s never going to be okay for women to eat chips loudly or drink anything but calorie free, flavored water. The Special K advertisement again seems to be a needless exercise in gendered advertisement. It’s okay for both men and women to eat Special K because it tastes good and has some nutritional value, yet Special K focused on women because women more often buy into diet products in hopes that they’ll meet society’s expectations that they are (or at least try to be) thin.

Setting aside misogynistic beliefs that plague this country, I often wonder if companies subscribe to the believe that “no advertising is bad advertising.” A few people may have briefly considered boycotting Doritos over the executive’s comments, but I know a handful of people may have also been like, “How stupid! Doritos do sound good though” and proceeded to buy a bag. If the Super Bowl advertisements hadn’t boosted sales, certainly everyone talking about Doritos didn’t hurt sales, especially if you didn’t look into why Lady Doritos was trending.

Dr. Pepper 10’s commercial saying “it’s not for women” was supposed to make this diet soda more masculine. However, as a society, we should be trying to move past the gender exclusion “He-man-woman-haters’ Club” as the definition of masculinity, and this advertisement also prompted quite the conversation online. When asked about the controversy, Jim Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for Dr. Pepper, sloughed it off as a “joke,” adding that the advertisement was just a way to get people talking about the product.

In other cases, the problem isn’t seeking pointless advertising, but it is about data analytics. Companies looking to expand their market share pour over reports showing who is and isn’t buying their products. Using qualitative data can be a very effective tool to figure out consumers’ demographics, but hard numbers forget about evolving cultural trends.

For example, the Lady Doritos comments seem to make light of the current Women’s Rights Movement calling attention to sexual assault and pay discrepancies, even if the data that the Pepsico executive was referencing did show that women have different chip preferences than men. In Pepsico’s official release following the problematic interview, the company noted that they are always looking for new and innovative ways to entice consumers. Similarly, David Vinjamuri, self-proclaimed “longtime brand guy,” believes the creation of Bic Pens For Her was evidence of “what happens when you try to build your brand by looking at it through the lens of data rather than from the perspective of your consumer.” Vinjamuri surmises that data may have shown that women weren’t buying as many Bic pens as men were, so Bic sought a product that would entice female consumers.

Whenever a product misstep happens, those of us who like witty and/or sarcastic reviews end up winning, but I hope that marketers will continue to think smartly about what should and shouldn’t be marketed based on gender, no matter what hard numbers says. While it makes sense to market tampons and pads to menstruating women, it does not make sense to market tacos, guitar picks, or paper towels just to one gender. I also find it curious that colors and scents are gendered—maybe one day men will be allowed to smell like Luxe Lavender, women of Stronger Swagger, and Axe body spray will no longer just kill the brain cells of teenage boys.

Companies have plenty of reasons to change up their ad campaigns, packaging, and product offerings, but needlessly targeting only one gender shouldn’t be an excuse. Plus, advertisers should be encouraged to be more creative and aware of societal change. It’s lazy to rely on tired gender stereotypes.

Give me more sheep singing Queen songs, manatees in novelty tees, and Vikings going to Viking’s games and fewer needlessly gendered products. Commercial breaks will be better for it.