Dell's Della Debacle an Example of Wrong Way to Target Women

For Starters, Stop Thinking of Them as a Niche Demo

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Hearing that Dell had launched a female-targeted microsite called Della last week triggered my "Is it a gag?" reflex -- the suspicious reaction to a bit of marketing too extreme to be real. Yet upon arrival at the site, there they were: all the ridiculous "women's advertising" clich├ęs you could imagine in your wildest feminine-products-commercial fantasies. But it wasn't a gag -- not intentionally, anyway.

Dell created this site to specifically target potential female buyers of netbooks -- to communicate that these computers are especially suitable to womanly needs and, one supposes, to spare women from having to confront the full-strength Dell site. Della is all soft, unthreatening palettes and images of sisters sharing, natch. The home page originally depicted three women with laptops sitting, explicably, close enough together that their shoulders overlapped. Those shoulders, it should be said, were swathed in fabric that matched ... their laptops! (That photo has since been swapped out for equally hilarious imagery.) The site goes on to offer humorously nontechnical "Tech Tips." Originally those included, yes, tips for how computers can help ladies count calories (and search recipes online!). Again, the site masters have since removed those more ridiculous entries. I suspect that by the time this column appears, Dell may have disappeared the whole site (one Twitter comment tidily sums up popular -- male and female -- sentiment online: "Della, new website 4 women who r 2 stupid 2 go 2").

But Della is worth revisiting for what it represents as a marketing (and social) phenomenon and as an example of what not to do as a brand when you feel you need to speak exclusively to women. Historically, marketers have done a less-than-stellar job at recognizing females as both human beings and as important consumers of their products. But now that more marketers do seem to be attempting to appeal directly to women, the execrable results speak to a culture that's still mired in biased, old-timey thinking. It would be unfair to men to say that Della seems like a man's idea of what women like because 100% of the men I've asked about the site think it's terribly ill-conceived too. A comment from a Dell spokesperson (in an MSNBC piece from Suzanne Choney) was as illuminating as it was disillusioning: Dell, he said, also has other specialty sites including youngsters/music site Dell Lounge, and another devoted to PC game fans. OK, here's the thing marketers: Women aren't a niche. They are half of the mother loving planet.

Forget about what a missed opportunity Della represents: a useful site for computer novices offering genuine tech help and information? Sure. Focusing on external computer design? Fine. In fact, Dell and non-AOR, non-Della-affiliated agency Mother have done some good, non-insulting work around color and with the Dell Design Studio.

The site speaks to the larger issue of marketers and ad people living in marketing world instead of the real world. Didn't anyone, at any point, say, "What about the women who already buy our or our competitors' computers? Mightn't we alienate them with this?" A male co-worker, who was cringing along with me at the aforementioned photo of the color-coordinated threesome, said, "Can you imagine if they were three dudes?" Indeed, what a simple reality check for advertisers looking to target women: Would the scenario you're depicting look like bad sketch comedy if the gender was switched? If the answer is yes, maybe you need to step back and think some more.

In the marketing world, it makes sense to create cheesy websites because research says women think differently than real people. The real world is a far scarier and more interesting place. In the real world, marketers looking to appeal to women need a clue, some sophistication and something useful or new or interesting to say. Or how about this: Just make products and sites that appeal to human beings.

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and

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