Like many over Super Bowl weekend, Doritos had a terrific Sunday night and a tough Monday morning.
The Internet loved an ad for the chips featuring rapping “Game of Thrones” actor Peter Dinklage — but it hated PepsiCo chief executive Indra Nooyi’s podcast appearance teasing the launch of female-friendly lines of snacks. The comments, made to Freakonomics late last week, caught media attention in the wee hours after the Eagles’ win.
“As you watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips,” said Nooyi, “they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth … Women, I think, would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public.”
The solution, Nooyi suggests, is a chip lighter on the finger-clinging flavor dust and quieter to chew that also fits in a purse. Introducing: Lady Doritos.
Nooyi didn’t announce the launch of a line of Doritos tailored to the female taste. She didn’t officially announce the launch of anything. But she said enough to enrage the same women her company seeks to satiate. We asked for equal pay, the joke went around Twitter, and the world answered with stale, flavorless purse-shaped snack foods.
The argument underlying much of the anger around the mythical Lady Doritos rests on the idea that women eat Doritos just the same way as men, thank you very much, and suggesting otherwise is all stereotype and no substance. Maybe.
Or maybe, as any competent company does, PepsiCo conducted focus group to see how men and women ate their snacks. Maybe their research showed that men actually are more comfortable than many women crunching in public, just like they’re more comfortable sitting astride a subway seat like a colossus — because society has told them they can.
In that case, PepsiCo isn’t developing a product based only on sexism. PepsiCo is developing a product based on real-life behaviors that are themselves based on sexism.
The question is how wrong that is. The product perpetuates sexist stereotypes, yes, but companies want to sell stuff. To do that, they have to figure out what consumers want, and if women (or moviegoers, or anyone averse to orange fingers) want a less loud, less messy chip, it seems unreasonable to tell PepsiCo not to provide it.
The problem is in the marketing, which fails to appreciate the noxiousness of the stereotype. This isn’t the same razor painted pink and marked up a few dollars. It’s a whole other product. Because the line of snacks PepsiCo is contemplating does serve a purpose, the company could have created the not-so-Dorito-y Dorito without calling it a chip for women, and trusted that if you bake it they will come — with a bit of subtler branding built in to guide them. That way, everyone wins. More tasty treats, and no damaging gender norms on the side.
PepsiCo would have won, too, by avoiding a PR cataclysm. This blunder will hurt their bottom line more than any sales boost could have helped. It’s the company, not the women, who may struggle to handle the crunch.