While market research can help a company reverse a sales slump, assumptions can get you into PR trouble.
Case in point, Indra Nooyi became Chairman of PepsiCo, maker of Doritos, in 2006, a few months before the start of the financial collapse. In an interview with Freakonomics, Nooyi said women “…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.” Sure, some women. But a whole gender?
The CEO went on further to describe what she believed women wanted from their salty snacks: less crunch, different packaging that could be carried in a purse, flavor that didn’t stick to the fingers so much, and so on.
And then, there came the reaction: British tabloid dubbed Indra Nooyi “Lady Doritos” and printed a scathing headline story. Then came the memes on social media.
And again, here’s where social media showed its influence. Had they done some smart market research into the matter before the interview, Doritos would likely have found a very different consensus from their female customers. In so many words – Doritos for women? No thank you. But as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. The Facebook and Twitter posts came by the thousands.
One particular tweet chastised the chip maker with, “To be fair, women do eat @Doritos differently: Step 1: Eat chips Step 2: Get crumbs in bra Step 3: Later on, find crumbs in bra and eat them”.
The reaction forced Doritos to issue a statement via Twitter: “We already have Doritos for women – they’re called Doritos, and they’re loved by millions.” An apology, in so many words.
But the damage was done – so much negative publicity ensued – showing just how important market research is. Just think – a survey that asked women the right questions would have likely garnered them the right kind of information.
The lesson, although harsh in their case, could have been far worse had they actually marketed Doritos for women.
Don’t assume things about your customers, especially during a market downturn – do your market research. You may find your assumptions, while having the best intentions, might even put off your target audience.
On the other hand, researching data already gathered was a game-changer for one of the world’s largest fast food chains…
Karla Jo Helms
Chief Evangelist and Anti-PR Strategist
JoTo PR Disruptors