Frito-Lay wants to read your mind

The company uses "neuromarketing" for a new female-centric ad campaign.

By Katie Rolnick

Published February 26, 2009 5:00PM (EST)

It's nothing new for a company to target women with an advertising campaign (see: beauty industry). It is, however, a bit novel when that advertising campaign is based on neurological research, an increasingly popular technique called neuromarketing. And, according to the New York Times, Frito-Lay's new approach for its calorie-conscious products is the result of digging deep into the wants, needs and fears that plague women's brains (cause we're all the same, of course).

Apparently, women are "snacking" twice as much as men, but, shame of all shames, they're much more likely to choose fruit, veggies, drinks (does that include vodka?) and sweets over salty snacks, the lifeblood of Frito-Lay, whose healthier line of baked products includes Lay's, Fritos, Ruffles, Doritos, Cheetos and Tostitos. So Frito-Lay's advertisers looked to neurological research to "adjust the marketing accordingly." And what did they find? "Research suggested that the communication center in women's brains was more developed, leading [the advertising agency's president] to infer that women could process ads with more complexity and more pieces of information." She also concluded that because the hippocampus, the brain's memory and emotional center, is proportionally larger in women, they "would look for characters they could empathize with." But most appealing for the advertisers was a piece of research suggesting that the decision-making area of the brain, which is larger in women, is also somehow related to feelings of guilt. Instead of selling the idea that their products are "guilt-free," the agency, ostensibly, claim to have created a campaign that avoids triggering guilt, instead reminding women that they're making a healthy choice when they eat, say, Baked Lays.

So did the campaign live up to the research? Frito-Lay has launched a Web site, where you can meet the campaign's stars: four female cartoon characters. I suppose Frito-Lay thinks that because they've depicted women of color, these are diverse representations. But they would be wrong. Anna, Cheryl, Maya and Nikki are essentially one big gendered stereotype split into four personalities.

As for avoiding the guilt trigger, they failed once again. The commercial available within the New York Times article depicts fashionista Maya feeling obligated to go "tanning, waxing, buffing, lifting, plucking, polishing" in order to appear sexy and appealing to her husband on their upcoming beach vacation. One of the two e-cards available on the Woman's World site directly reinforces guilty thinking. Cheryl holds a plate of cookies while a stream of "blah, blah, blahs" appears above her head. Meanwhile, a thought bubble pops up above Nikki. "I shouldn't have eaten that cookie." Then, "Why did I eat that cookie." If I'm not mistaken, this is very nearly a definition of guilty thinking. Guess I'll stick to fruits, veggies and drinks (and yes, that includes vodka).

Katie Rolnick

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