AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dozens of women headed to the Texas Capitol Sunday and ate crunchy chips in public, licked their fingers and even poured the crumbs at the bottom of the bag into their mouths.
It was an event that saw lots of online popularity over the last few days, firing back at a recent comment by PepsiCo Inc’s CEO Indra Nooyi on the Freakonomics Radio podcast suggesting that women don’t like the messiness and loud crunch of typical chips. After that comment, she went on to discuss new packaging and design the company is looking into for its Doritos product that would take those preferences into account.
This was Nooyi’s response when the host of the podcast asked her about how differently men and women eat chips:
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.”
Then the interviewer asked Nooyi if PepsiCo. was developing different chips for men and women, she 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 AP reports PepsiCo said Tuesday that the interpretation of Nooyi’s comments regarding female-specific Doritos was “inaccurate.”
Still, for many women, Nooyi’s comments touched on overall frustration about gender-specific marketing. Cami Joy-Rocha attended the event, crunching chips with her wife and daughters. She hopes their demonstration sends a message to large companies like PepsiCo.
“We’re listening, we’re paying attention, don’t think we’re not,” Joy-Rocha said. “[Consumers] are going to make decisions based on what our values are.”
Amber Rose Johnson attended the event because she was so frustrated by Nooyi’s comments. This was the first protest she’d ever attended and she took pride in eating her chips loudly and licking her fingers.
“To tell someone, ‘We think that this is what you want’ — don’t tell me what to do, I am a veteran of the United States Army,” Johnson said. “I have never been and I will continue to never be worried about what someone has to say about me eating chips, for goodness sake.”
She hopes sitting on the Capitol steps opens up a larger conversation about marketing.
“It has nothing to do with the food itself,” Johnson said, explaining that she doesn’t want to see gendered marketing in food products.
“I couldn’t believe she said those things,” said Lexie Cooper, president of the Austin Chapter of the National Organisation for Women (Austin NOW), who promptly organized the event after learning of the comments. The event was titled “A bunch of women eating chips in public.”
“Originally it was just a joke with my friends. A few of them liked that I said I was going to this event [on Facebook] when there were zero people who had RSVP’d, so I definitely didn’t expect to have a thousand going already, that’s nuts,” Cooper said.
The event page said “non-women” could attend in solidarity as well.
Cooper is aware that PepsiCo has come out with statements clarifying Nooyi’s comments, but thinks the event she’s creating is still relevant.
“This is a great opportunity for us to point out that we’re still facing a lot of sexism and misogyny in our society,” said Cooper. “And a lot of that is ingrained within us, and we need to face that head-on, maybe we need to face some of that with some humor and with some food.”
An Austin company, Pauqui Chips, agreed to provide a couple hundred bags of “Doritos-like” chips at the event for attendees to crunch on, Cooper said.
Cooper emphasized this isn’t just about the chips, but rather the expectations and hurdles women are faced with every day.
“We’re still in the wake of this ‘Me too’ movement, so I hope the discussion we have here and the dialogue that’s created really contributes to that and adds another force to it, because we’re really talking about these everyday situations where women feel uncomfortable,” Cooper said.
Kate Pounders, an assistant professor of advertising at UT Austin, said her students and fellow faculty members have been talking about this event. She said many brands have recently been going gender-neutral with their marketing because of this exact type of blowback.
“I think women just want to be seen as equals and they don’t want their own type of chip, they just want to eat the chips that everyone eats,” Pounders said, explaining that women want to be seen as consumers just as men are seen as consumers.
“And you know Bic did a pink pen set a few years ago, and that wasn’t received positively either because women just want to use pens,” Pounders continued, referencing Bic’s “for Her” pens.
Pounders’ colleague Angeline Close-Scheinbaum, also a UT professor, has noticed this tide of opposition to gendered marketing, especially given the rise of social media.
“I was surprised about how viral it went quickly, especially in light of this product not being made,” Close Scheinbaum said. “This really shows the power of transparency in statements that CEO’s and leaders make to their stakeholders because it shows that one sentence, two sentences of the CEO’s statement have gone viral.”
Close-Scheinbaum explained this incident is a teaching moment on the advantages of social media to empower consumers and the additional accountability it places on companies and brands.
“It’s interesting that companies in this era especially wouldn’t slow down and think a bit deeper, even about making comments, because cause this product hasn’t been made, but this whole ‘lady Doritos’ thing is a meme, it’s hashtag, it’s something that’s gonna be part of a larger movement,” she said.
She pointed out that there are ways to deal with marketing messy products without “alienating 50 percent of the population.” Close-Scheinbaum points to Cheetos as a good example of embracing messiness in their marketing, coming out with goofy products like a “Cheetos bronzer.”