Why the #LadyDoritos fiasco might not be as bad as you think

After #LadyDoritos well and truly caused a storm of viral outrage this week, Bec Brideson decided it was time to stop guzzling the online haterade.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi recently made headlines after she announced cleaner, smaller and less loud Doritos for women were in the works.

The outrage was immediate, and Lady Twitter descended on Nooyi with a passion.

Of course, they do have something of a point.

It brings to mind the infamous ‘Bic for Her’ fiasco, along with Cards Against Humanity’s brilliant female parody version, which came complete with an extra increased $5 price point and bright pink packaging.

However, despite all the online hate for Nooyi and her #LadyDoritos, it’s important to remember that often, gendered products have the potential to act as an important – and even life-saving – differentiator.

For example, Liv Bikes, an offshoot of Giant bicycles, unearthed in its research that while women can ride male or unisex bikes; designing bikes specifically for women was better by miles. Liv examined a woman’s anatomy, physical structure, hand length and weight and delved deeper in order to make her experience riding a bike more comfortable and efficient.

Women have shorter torsos and longer legs than men. Women also have a larger percentage of their strength and power come from the bottom half of their bodies.

These considerations were then implemented into the design of their bikes, making for better rides for both sexes.

Similar sentiment can be found in the testing of crash test dummies in the US. Incredibly, only since 2011 have safety testers realised the introduction of female, pregnant female and child dummies are essential to make cars safer for everyone.

In 2014, Dr Alyson McGregor addressed an audience at TedX Providence on the gender bias that has cost women’s lives.

McGregor explained how a recent US Government Accountability study revealed that 80 percent of the drugs withdrawn from the market are due to side effects on women. This bias even extends to clinical trials, which often focus exclusively on male cells, while female cells are ignored.

So with all that in mind, why did Indra Nooyi get it so wrong?

It all comes down to a major issue with their research. Did they ask the right questions? Did they use the right method?

Straight away, from looking at her observations – that women “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public”, that they don’t “pour the little broken pieces into their mouth” – feel influenced by societal and environmental expectations of women, not for actual biological differences that cannot be controlled.

Perhaps there is some scientific backing to PepsiCo’s insights, such as a study that says women have a greater neurological likelihood with over 80% in this study from the University of Southern Florida showing a predilection for irritance towards hearing other people chewing loudly.

So then the issue falls into how these test ideas are communicated. Perhaps these revelations should not have been revealed casually on a podcast without an expert on hand?

Given the complex topic of gender, the many mires within it and how marketing-to-women has been poorly managed by big brands in the past, this was sure to be a minefield either way.

All that said…

Where do we go from here?

Stop guzzling the online haterade and think about it. We should be criticising poor execution and what sounds like reinforcement of product stereotypes for women.

We should ALSO be leveraging our gender differences in relation to how they can be better suited for individuals needs and expectations.

Nooyi and her team were on the right path observing the differences in the way men and women behave, consume, buy and interact with PepsiCo’s cadre of different products.

And while her conclusions are being heavily criticised; that’s not to say that a re-examination with the right tools and queries might actually unearth real insights that better connect with their female consumer.

That’s what happened when Nike went: “Why don’t we make shoes using a woman’s actual footprint, rather than shrink and pink the men’s shoe?”

And today, it’s a top-tier booming female athleisure wear business.

The sooner we realise that examining our sex differences when it comes to products isn’t discriminatory (it’s actually bloody clever), the better.  

Our differences should be recognised in business, because they help us better design not just our products and services, but our internal workforce and business culture.

This is just one of the many gender blind spots across the business pipeline that PepsiCo and many businesses in Australia and across the globe must learn how to navigate and manage in order to sustain themselves as gender continues to grow as a hot-topic issue.

Business and brands shouldn’t ‘pink and shrink’, but they certainly can and should query whether their product is best served for women.

Bec Brideson helps businesses and brands through better understanding the power of gender differences.


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