The branding lesson behind #ladycrisps

by Nigel Hollis | February 12, 2018

In this post, following on from the Tweetstorm over #ladycrisps or #ladychips, Jane Ostler, Global Media Domain Lead, Insights Division at Kantar, reflects on whether creating gender-specific products is a throwback to the age of Mad Men.

Early February sees the centenary of universal suffrage in the UK, meaning that women were able to vote for the first time. Millicent Garrett Fawcett (incidentally, an antecedent of my sons) was a well- known suffragist, and this year she will be honored as the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square. It is indeed a historic moment.

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Also, this week, a product innovation was rumored to have been created for women who can’t cope with Doritos. This was since proved not to be the case, but it has given rise to #ladycrisps - or #ladychips, if you’re in the USA. This product development was supposedly for women who didn’t like the loud crunchy noise, or the mess, that regular Doritos create. I’ll come back to that later.

Real or not, this brings to mind a few other examples of products that have been invented for ladies, with no apparent benefit or obvious demand.

Last year there were pink razors being retailed at double the price of the non-pink ones, which were otherwise identical. After a bit of a row, the pricing disparity was corrected. A newspaper survey in 2016 found that on average, women were paying 37 percent more for gender-targeted items, including beauty products and toys. And back in 2012, who could forget the Bic ‘For Her’ biro range? A marvelous set of pink and purple biros with a comfortable grip. These lady-pens made for hilarious and sarcastic reviews on Amazon.

And just before Valentine’s Day, an example of ‘gender-based pricing’ has surfaced in Sainsbury’s supermarket. Identical cards, except for the ‘For my husband’ or ‘For my wife’ printed on the front, were spotted to have been priced at £2.50 and £2.00 respectively. An industry commentator suggested that women might be willing to spend more on a Valentine’s card (although a man could obviously buy it too). Sainsbury’s quickly confirmed that from now on, both cards would be priced at £2.

I’ve been bingeing on Mad Men recently, and the product label ‘for her’ seems to be straight out of the 1960s. ‘For her’ means that ‘she’ is the other one. It’s not inclusive, it’s divisive and patronizing. You do wonder if there was any positioning research or consumer testing. This is not to say that the idea of these product variants is wrong. On the contrary, these products could have a much broader appeal and a universal benefit. It’s the positioning, and the marketing, that’s at fault.

You could make pink razors and low-crunch, non-messy crisp variants available to all. There could be people other than women who want a comfortable biro, or who don’t like getting messy hands when they need to eat crisps. Are these innovations designed for problems that don’t exist, or just a marketing gimmick? Either way we have seen some errors of judgement. It’s not quite bad enough to make you want to chain yourself to some railings, but a quick perusal of #ladycrisps/#ladychips suggests that social media is perhaps the modern-day equivalent.

Incidentally, Cheesy Doritos are a top snack and I plan to continue eating the original version, messily and noisily. But why do you think marketers like to develop product variants for women? Please share your thoughts.  

5 comments

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  1. Lee, February 23, 2018

    Good points, Jane!

    Interesting, too, the image of women as pink (blushing?), dainty (small and thin?) and quiet (knows her place?) !  Personally, I don't care for the colour pink and have bought men's razors for years (not that my delicate legs need shaving), though maybe I should be concerned about the noise I make when using a men's blade?!? 

    Sadly, women have been naive and marketers have been getting away with disparate prices for a while now.  

  2. Nigel, February 23, 2018

    Thanks for the comments. 

    Anne, credit where credit is due, Jane Ostler wrote this post. 

  3. Anne Curtis, February 15, 2018
    Great Article Nigel...I just find it hard that Women/Ladies are forced to be aware of eating Doritos - I never had an issue with chopping on my Doritos or Cheetos...too much of a sexist act - from one of my favorite clients, PepsiCo...
  4. Eve Dixon, February 13, 2018

    Diversity of team members helps drive diversity of thinking...it’s less likely that ill-judged products for women would be developed in a team that gives a impactful voice to the women within for example. Not sure if this was an example of ill-judged positioning or simply a way to get us talking about #ladycrisps but it did smack of an April Fool’s joke!

    Incidentally I too like Doritos but especially the Chilli Heatwave flavour so not sure what that says about me?! #girlpower 

  5. Graham Staplehurst, February 12, 2018
    Of course, it's not just products for women that are unnecessarily stereotyped or developed to feed invisible needs.  I have never understood why there are deodorants/antiperspirants marketed for men or women as if we don't both sweat as much as each other (I've just been to my weekly hot yoga class, so I should know).  But the ultimate insult is giving worse value to one group and pretending it's worth it.  Let's make we sure we none of us collude in this or fail to call out clients who act against their own interests in this way.

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