Last week was a whirlwind for snack-lovers and feminists alike as news of the development of a “lady dorito” was the hot take across the internet.
In an interview with the highly-acclaimed and widely-downloaded economics podcast Freakonomics, Indra Nooyi discussed her role as the newly-hired female CEO of PepsiCo, one of the world’s largest producers of snacks and beverages. Hailing from India, Nooyi took on the role with lots of obstacles in her way, including the public’s changing attitude toward snack foods and global shipping puzzles.
She described during the interview one area that she’s been exploring for the popular chip, Doritos. Her experience and research have indicated to PepsiCo’s R&D department that women are apprehensive about eating Doritos in public. From the loud crunching that produces orange crumbs everywhere to the fluorescent orange “Dorito Dust” that sticks on fingers and lips long after the chips have been consumed, women shy away from eating the snack in public. Nooyi expressed that PepsiCo’s developers are exploring what it would look like to manufacture a dustless and quieter Doritos experience specifically for women.
Shortly after the podcast went live, the internet exploded with comments about the necessity (or lack thereof) of the “lady dorito.” Some commented factually on the remarks, while others took extreme views either in favor of or in opposition to the concept.
PepsiCo quickly released a statement about the lady dorito, saying that Doritos as they are currently manufactured are perfectly fit for women to consume and enjoy. In a few sentences, they reiterated that Doritos are not designed for one gender or another, and that people of all genders can enjoy the snack as they please.
The sudden reaction to the “lady dorito” issue was a generally innocuous lesson to everyone about the danger of specifying a gender for gender-specific projects. “Unnecessarily gendered products” have long been the butt of many internet memes and public ridicule. Ellen Degeneres took the mockery to the next level when Bic pushed their “Pens for Her” line of writing utensils that featured pastel colors.
Marketing to women in the modern era is a tough balancing act — while there are some products that are designed exclusively for women, they way they’re presented can’t be insulting or too sexist, or else they’ll lose the appeal altogether. Many advertisers have capitalized intensely on the move toward female empowerment and away from women as eye candy. The New York Times noted that searches for female stock photos have evolved over the past decades to be less “sexy” and more “adventurous,” including female rock climbers and rockstars.
The real lesson from the almost-fiasco of Lady Doritos is that there are ways to make room for demands that are not gender-dependent. The call for reduced crunch and cheese powder is not intrinsically linked to womanhood. Marketing snacks to women going forward is going to be tricky, and there will certainly be more faux-paux before we crack the code.