*Le sigh.* Just when it seemed that Doritos had won over countless hearts and minds (including mine) with an amazing Super Bowl Ad featuring Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman in an epic lip sync battle, this happened:

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.”

This comes from PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi during her spot on Freakanomics Radio. She’s talking about the future of Doritos, and how they’ll focus on engaging female demographics. She posits, “It’s not a male and female as much as ‘are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?’”

She reveals that the packaging  could be smaller and will be “low crunch.” And this is where is starts to get problematic—and why the comment was taken out of context by the media: the idea was described as a less crunchy chip you can fit in your purse—and that’s why it will be appealing to women.

Cue the internet (#LadyDoritos):


After the backlash, PepsiCo released a statement to ABC News denying that “Lady Doritos” was actually going to be a thing, calling the reporting “inaccurate” and that their Doritos are for all, regardless of gender. The final point: “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.”

But first, let’s backtrack a bit. Nooyi is by all other indications a typical female role model—a professional, successful woman in a very high space that has been typically reserved for men. And from a marketer’s perspective, it’s easy to see what she is doing: she saw an underserved gap in demographics and attempted to tailor products and messages to serve that audience. She was attempting to solve a problem. That’s what smart marketers do.

But, was there really a problem to solve at all? Maybe.

What, where and how much women eat has always been under disproportionate scrutiny. Our infatuation with women’s diets has continually perpetuated strange advertising trends like women laughing while eating salads, literally every yogurt commercial ever and most recently, men hovering over women using pressure cookers.

These are prime examples of how traditional marketing demographics start to fall short when it comes to modern consumer identity. Our collective perspective on self identity is evolving. Brand marketers and strategists need evolve too, and that means we need a richer understanding and empathy in regards to how we explore and discuss consumer identity.

Discussing gender is inherently political—no matter how seemingly objective the discussion might be. And while some brands may be cashing in on the “feminism” train, serious issues like gender parity and gender roles can’t be made light. This rings true for other serious issues like racial equality, social justice or just politics in general. If it’s not in your brand DNA, don’t mess with it.

We’ve seen a ton of emotional and political advertising in the last year, but we’ve also seen some serious missteps (like this one). To avoid doing so in the future, brands need to consider the implications of their words and actions and always see the larger picture. Our CEO Robin Neifield said it best:

“It’s not an easy task for brands to be both safe and relevant among continually shifting world views In order to balance those conflicting needs, they must ensure the right process and people are in place. Everyone involved must have the same crystal clear understanding of their brand values.”