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Della Disaster: What Makes A Computer 'For Women'?

by Andrea Learned  |  
May 15, 2009

Is your laptop colorful and a little smaller? And, if so, does that automatically make it a "woman's computer?" I don't think so. But, the new Della (Dell Computer) approach could make a person wonder. It seems to be a classic case of "marketing to women 1.0" in a 2.75+ world.

So yes. There has been much ado on the blogs and on Twitter surrounding this launch, with very insightful discussion (for the most part) from both men and women. Is the Della pitch stereotyped? Yes. Will some women still buy? It's possible. Overall, however, the core female customer they were trying to reach may instead be writing and talking about the irrelevance of all Dell's good intentioned, marketing to women efforts. Perhaps I can shed some light on why.
A few key points worth debate:
1) Nothing speaks "women" like color choices. I co-authored the book Don't Think Pink, so you can guess where I stand (black MacBook, thank you very much). However, color on gadgets is not a bad thing, and it does attract attention of any human, male or female, who is into customization and accessorizing. Most people carry their laptop (or in the Della case, "netbook") all over the place, so - just like diaper bags and doggy carriers - fashion is a factor. Color or other such options are valid differentiators, but are they truly "female-specific?"
2) To show you really understand women, include a pink ribbon. I have nothing against the pink ribbon campaign or the cause it represents, but it has become the cliche, go-to fund to support for almost every brand at the marketing to women 1.0 level. Is there possibly another deserving organization out there that better represents Della/Dell's corporate beliefs and their commitment to women with relation to their own industry (a non-profit that distributes netbooks to children in third world countries, perhaps?) Networkforgood could help identify the perfect one.
3) To reflect today's women, give them green. This, too, is a wise idea when approached with commitment. However, the Della site presents an almost generic template on how to recycle technology, with no Dell-branded way of making the process easier. Their "related links" are the usual worthy green suspects (e.g. Treehugger), but the whole thing feels... lazy. How about, just as with the cause support, choosing to express something uniquely "Dell" and representative of how the brand knows its particular female customers/their sustainable practice interest? The green page could be much more deeply researched and provide links that would be new-to or extra focused on female customers (BigGreenPurse comes to mind).
4) To reach women, alienate men. Because of the "for women" overkill in the Della approach, most men will stay far away. Similar to what happened when the new Beetle launched those years ago - only to become a "chick car," Dell may well have unnecessarily (and perhaps permanently) made the Della line seem like a girl-only laptop. The thing is, women don't need for you to exclude men in order to speak their language or reflect their lifestyle. Men and women today most likely have similar expectations of what their laptop or netbook needs to do (function is key!), and if the technology can be customized a bit with color and sleek design - all the better. But none of that is gender-specific, so why market it as such?della.jpg
While I was writing my first draft of this post, I got a call from Jenna Wortham a reporter for the New York Times doing a piece on this same topic. That she had noticed enough of a negative online buzz about the netbook's launch to look into it makes me think Della may soon be inspired to revisit their approach.
The bonus lesson therein: in the social media age, marketing to women must be at the 2.75 level, or your brand will be immediately and very publicly called to task.

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Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.

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  • by Mary Dean Fri May 15, 2009 via blog

    Classic case of good intentions and poor execution. It's a basic marketing lesson that some brands have not mastered in ANY media. The biggest shame is that Dell (and others) have not learned from other marketers mistakes. Remember years ago when American Airlines launched their site "just for women" and touted the arrival to all of their female customers with great fanfare? There was just one small problem. Women didn't like "their" new site one bit. In fact they found it "insulting" and "too lavender" and wondered why they would need a site of their own to purchase a ticket in the first place. (Ringing any bells here, Dell?) Mistakes like this have been made online and off for years and years. Every day, big brands spend lots of time and money on research with their target audience only to have their final message to the consumer fall apart in the details of translation and the creative execution. Although in this case, Andrea, I think you're right. Dell was just plain lazy. They may not have done much research at all. If they had, they'd know that women don't chose pink as a top three color. Heck, I've got the research to prove that. Why wouldn't a company like Dell know it? But the most important thing they'd know (a veritable marketing-to-women 101 fact) is that in categories like this, women don't want to be singled out. They want to be acknowledged and included. Ooops,I've got to go find a recipe online. It's almost dinner time.

  • by JohnatDell Fri May 15, 2009 via blog

    In fact, we are revisiting our approach thanks to a lot of valuable feedback. More info on the Direct2Dell blog:

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Fri May 15, 2009 via blog

    Based on this post from JohnatDell, it is good that Dell is being responsive and revisiting their approach. I have to say, from my experience, men and women use computers for work and play in pretty much the same ways. I do not think many women would want to work or play on a pink computer, especially if it had less horsepower than the machines marketed to their male contemporaries. However, there probably is a good market for these netbook type machines based on the way people use computers these days and the desire to save some cash.

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