PepsiCo faces backlash after ‘Lady Doritos’ trends

The company’s chief said her team would be launching ‘snacks for women,’ asserting that men and women eat the flavored chips differently. Those remarks quickly drew scorn and derision.

It was the crunch heard ’round the marketing world.

In a “Freakonomics Radio” interview, journalist Stephen Dubner asked PepsiCo’s chief executive, Indra Nooyi, about the differences between chip-eating habits for men and women:

DUBNER: I understand that men and women eat chips very differently. Can you tell us the differences?

NOOYI: When you eat out of a flex bag — one of our single-serve bags — especially as you watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, 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, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor, and the broken chips in the bottom. Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They 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 flavor into their mouth.

Nooyi then confirmed that the company was “getting ready to launch” snack products made specifically for women:

DUBNER: So is there a male and female version of chips that you’re playing with, or no?

NOOYI: It’s not a male and female as much as “are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?” And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon. For women, low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavor stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse. The whole design capability we built in PepsiCo was to allow design to work with innovation. Not just on packaging colors, but to go through the entire cycle, and say, “All the way to the product in the pantry, or how it’s being carried around, or how they eat it in the car, or drink it in the car, what should be the design of the product, the package, the experience, so that we can influence the entire chain?”

Though Nooyi never said PepsiCo was making “Lady Doritos,” that was the phrase emblazoned across several headlines after the interview—and one used in angry Twitter users’ criticisms.

The term “Lady Doritos” trended throughout Monday on Twitter, making it to the second-most popular among U.S. users. Here’s a sampling of the snarky tweets shared as people lashed out against Nooyi and PepsiCo for the remarks:

Some Twitter users wondered what conversations had to take place in the company’s marketing rooms to launch such a product:

Several journalists derided the remarks with sarcastic write-ups.

In “Lady Doritos: A solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” The Guardian’s Emine Saner wrote:

In the world of crisps, there are only a handful of products that are obviously created for a specific consumer – flame-grilled, meaty ridges for the most masculine of men, stupid low-fat, rice-cake-based “crisps” for oppressed women and pickled onion Monster Munch for true connoisseurs.

In his Chicago Tribune column, “Lady Doritos that don’t crunch: A brief mansplation,”Rex Huppke wrote:

It’s a well-established rule of etiquette that a proper lady never pours the flavor into her mouth. But in the modern era, is it fair that a woman should do without delicious, flavor-dusted corn-ish chips simply because her consumption volume would shatter the feminine mystique?

… So kudos to Frito-Lay for seeking out ways to deliver soggy chips to women who wish to be seen but not heard eating snacks that have less flavor than man-food.

And hopefully, farmers and food manufactures will get to work making a few other items accessible to women. I suggest the following: “Soft Peanut Brittle … For Ladies”; “Crunch-Free She-Carrots”; “Cap’n-ette No-Crunch cereal”; and “Pringles in a Jar of Water.”

The backlash grew to a point where PepsiCo and Doritos were forced to respond—and they did so by saying “Lady Doritos” didn’t exist.

On Monday evening, Doritos tweeted:

Adweek reported:

In response to a request for comment, a PepsiCo representative told Adweek that “the reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate,” despite Nooyi’s statement indicating otherwise.

“We already have Doritos for women—they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day,” the spokesperson added. “At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve, and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.”

Some PR pros might liken this crisis to a gaffe by Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, who in 2014 apologized after making remarks about women and raises at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

In his apology, Nadella said he was “inarticulate.” Some might argue that Nooyi was, too, in this case (though she was very descriptive)—and as a result, Doritos and PepsiCo are facing the wrath of offended consumers.

What would you advise PepsiCo’s brand managers to do at this point, PR Daily readers?

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