PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi seemed to announce 'Lady Doritos' yesterday and social media went nuts. Not in a good way. As of today, the company, which owns the Doritos brand as part of its snack empire, said it was all a mistake, according what a PR rep told AdAge.

Whoa, it's like CEOs are taking notes from modern politics. Say one thing today and utterly deny it tomorrow. PepsiCo faced a dire need for immediate crisis communications. The backpedaling was too little, too late and might have hurt the company's relationships with many consumers.

Tons of people immediately became irate over the perception that women weren't seen to be man enough to eat a snack chip. That they were too delicate for loud crunching and afraid of the mystery orange dust that comes off Doritos and coats fingers. Were journalists and the public completely wrong?

Given Nooyi's comments on the Freakonomics radio show explain why the reaction was reasonable and even predictable:

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.

Host Stephen Dubner immediately asked if there were male and female versions of chips they were considering. 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 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?"

The juxtaposition of women's different reactions to snack chips -- Doritos specifically mentioned -- and then the mention that the company saw the need for "low-crunch" snacks for women and planned to "launch a bunch of them soon" seemed pretty clear.

Whether she meant to or not, Nooyi  turned the entire Internet into a focus group, which responded clearly. In addition, she communicated that PepsiCo is already considering different versions of products for men and women. In today's environment, gender is a difficult topic. In products, that can sometimes work, like different razors for men and women. It can also become a total disaster, as Bic found out with a pen designed for women.

History should inform executives. With 'Lady Doritos,' the company pretty much looked at innovation disasters like the "Bic for Her" or "New Coke," snorted, and said, "Hold my Pepsi." This was a conceptual fiasco.

What makes the crisis communications plan even worse is that PepsiCo will never get close to the amount of press it received for a softer, gentler Dorito.

Published on: Feb 6, 2018