Only in a Woman’s World? Really?

27 02 2009

It is no secret that advertising tends to be very sexist especially if the target audience is specifically male, or specifically female. Frito-Lay has been/is researching how women feel about snacking and guilt in order to create a more effective marketing campaign, packaging that appeals more to women, and new flavors to entice women to eat Frito-Lay snacks. A recent article in the New York Times by Stephanie Clifford says:

Women are snacking more than men, but are not eating as many Frito-Lay snacks, said Jill Nykoliation, the president of Juniper Park, the advertising agency that handled the Frito-Lay women’s project. “So if it’s, you’re snacking two times as much, but you’re not snacking with us, why, and what can we do for you?”

In order to determine why women aren’t snacking with Frito-lay and how to encourage them to snack with Frito-Lay, Nykoliation did research on how women’s brains compared to men’s brains, employing “pop neurology” and “neuromarketing” techniques.

She was especially interested by the guilt factor. Frito-Lay and Juniper Park asked about 100 women to keep journals about their lives for about two weeks. According to their logs, the women felt guilty about quite a lot, whether it was snacking, not seeing their children enough, or not spending enough time with their husbands.

Trying to exploit women’s guilt, huh? Why do women “feel guilty” about so much? Because in this supposed post-feminist world, women are supposed to be perfect and do it all – they have to be thin, in shape, beautiful, always well dressed or made up, perfect moms who can balance work and family time, etc. In our patriarchal society, we are not good as we are – we always have to be better at something, to improve on something. All these double standards (a man in power is admirable but  a woman in power is a bitch), conflicting messages (be pure and virginal, but also be sexy and seductive for your man), and constant demands on women to achieve perfection in all aspects of their lives can get very overwhelming. Isn’t it great, capitalizing off women’s guilt to try to make us spend money on useless crap and then eat it too?

But I digress…Check out Frito-Lay’s new ad campaign specifically targeted to women. The cartoon series features four animated women (Anna, Cheryl, Maya and Nikki) who are “fab funny, fearless females” as the site puts it. They talk about men and health: eating healthy and exercising. The Times calls it “something of an animated Sex and the City.” Here is one of their (problematic) advertising images:


The woman on the left points to the Lays bag and says, “This is the best invention since the push up bra” and the woman on the right looks down at her breasts and responds, “I wouldn’t go that far.” I frankly don’t get it – chips and push up bras? Huh? A bag of chips better than a push up bra is supposed to make me want to buy and eat those chips?

What’s wrong with this “Only in a Woman’s World” campaign?

1. The women are all heterosexual: Anna is dating Steve, Cheryl is married to Mike, Maya is married to Simon, and Nikki is single but looking for Mr. Right. This assumes heterosexuality, thus perpetuating heteronormativity.

2. The women are so stereotypically feminine: Nikki is the single girl who wants to have a boyfriend (because women always want or need men), Maya owns a fashion boutique (owning something definitely indicates some degree of power but at the same time it is in a stereotypically feminine sphere: fashion which sort of minimizes her power), Cheryl is a full time mom who “sometimes finds herself wishing the annoyingly perfect Super-Mom next door would have a mental breakdown” (classical: pitting women in competition with each other. Cheryl is jealous of her Super-Mom neighbor and just wants her to crack so that she doesn’t feel as threatened) and Anna is an avid yoga practitioner (there’s nothing wrong with yoga – I practice and enjoy it myself, but at the same time it is generally more associated with women than men. Why couldn’t they have made her really into baseball or hockey or something that challenges dominant perceptions of femininity?)

3. If you look at the Get your goodies section of the site, there are three different wallpaper backgrounds that you can download that all have to do with women eating and feeling guilty. In the middle image, a woman is looking in a mirror and sees a big cupcake with pink icing on top and says “Whoa. Bad mirror.” This is supposed to encourage women to snack on salty foods rather than sweets because apparently research shows that women prefer snacking on sweets rather than salty foods. It doesn’t seem to do that though, at least not for me. It just further shows how this marketing campaign is trying to exploit and capitalize off female guilt concerning food.

A larger problem underlying the ad campaign is women and food, tying together self esteem, body image, how to be healthy, unhealthy eating practices and behaviors, eating disorders, and how privilege factors into what some women can or can’t eat.



4 responses

27 02 2009

Great blog and hope to have time soon to come back and read some more! xx

28 03 2009
The Guy’s Manual-Powered by Grape Nuts « The Gender Blender Blog

[…] way that the Frito-Lay “A Woman’s World” campaign discussed in feminist2’s previous post reinforces cultural definitions of ideal femininity, “The Guy’s Manual” […]

23 04 2009
denise lee yohn: brand as business bites™ » Blog Archive » brand inspiration

[…] phenomenon (i.e., women feeling guilty about snacking — you can read more about this on the Gender Bender blog).   So if I really think about it, I’ve come to realize that the brand makes me want to be […]

5 08 2009
J. K.

Here is the response I received from Frito Lay after complaining about the campaign….

—–Original Message—–
From: []
Sent: Tuesday, August 04, 2009 7:00 PM
Subject: Here’s our response to your e-mail – RE: Smartfood multi-pack, Reference #010691615A

Here’s our response to your e-mail – RE: Smartfood multi-pack, Reference #010691615A

Hi ,

Thank you for contacting Frito-Lay. Your comments are important, and we appreciate your sharing them with us.

Our new “Only in a Woman’s World” campaign is intended to celebrate women and to support and acknowledge their feelings on a wide range of topics. Women have wonderful ways to manage all that life throws at us, including support and acceptance from other women. Only in a Woman’s World is designed to celebrate this strength of the sisterhood of women.

Our hope is that women who see the ads recognize the real conversations and real life situations, while putting a humorous and light-hearted spotlight on the unique way women handle life’s challenges and day-to-day experiences.

The advertising and website will touch on a lot of different issues women deal with, including dieting – reflected in the first webisodes.

Before we developed the ads and the website, we talked to a lot of women and found that women spend a fair amount of time reading, talking and thinking about dieting and weight. In our approach, we wanted to acknowledge that this is a significant topic for women and that they are not alone in their concerns… and that it’s okay to sometimes laugh at these situations and at ourselves.

Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate your comments and the constructive spirit in which they were offered.

Best regards,

Frito-Lay Consumer Affairs

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