We’ve often said that putting traditionally underrepresented groups in positions of authority within organizations can be a huge boost to a company’s success by bringing in diverse perspectives and backgrounds and – among other things – being able to speak effectively to broader markets. However, diversity and inclusion don’t necessarily mean that consumers will flock to your brand just because someone who looks like them came up with some new ideas. Case in point: “Lady Doritos.”
During a podcast interview for Freakonomics Radio, PespiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was discussing Doritos and eating habits related to the popular chip: “[Women] don’t like to crunch too loudly in public,” she said. “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.”
When asked by the interviewer Stephen Dubner if PepsiCo was considering a male and female version of chips, Nooyi responded: “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 reaction to Nooyi’s comments was swift. To be fair, Nooyi never used the term “Lady Doritos.” That label was quickly assigned by some clever observer, and the media – traditional and social – ran with it. As the New York Times reports, there was a great deal of condemnation from women who were offended at the notion cheese dust and crunching were too much for them to handle. PepsiCo was quick to deny there would be any Lady Doritos.
But…there has also been consternation at the consternation. Ruth Graham writing for Slate defended the chip maker: “As a woman who loves Doritos, the backlash surprised me. I do want a single serving of chips that I can throw in my purse without worrying it will get crushed. I enjoy the intense flavor of Dorito dust as any other nacho-cheese-blooded American, but Nooyi is right that I don’t love licking it off my fingers in public. Admittedly, the low-crunch idea seems confusing, but I fully trust America’s best snack designers to make it appealing in ways I don’t yet understand.”
While the “Lady Doritos” saga is largely notable as an example of media frenzy over what seem to be innocent, offhand comments, it is also a good example of how diversity and inclusion don’t automatically guarantee understanding.
The misstep here, and it’s one that far too many companies make far too frequently—not taking steps to fully understand the target demographic and making assumptions about what will, or won’t, appeal to them.