Consumer feedback prompts Dell to adjust new site for women

ROUND ROCK, TX: Dell is toning down the "pink" on its new site targeted to women, Della, following criticism that it pandered to female stereotypes.

ROUND ROCK, TX: Dell is toning down the "pink" on its new site targeted to women, Della, following criticism that it pandered to female stereotypes.

The new site, which soft launched April 30, was intended to promote the Inspiron Mini 10 netbooks, but drew ire from top-tier media and female consumers for content that some said painted women as having little tech savoir faire.

"Once you get beyond how cute they are, you'll find that netbooks can do a lot more than check your e-mail," the Web site reportedly stated in its “tech tips” section, “Seven Unexpected Ways a Netbook Can Change Your Life.” Fitness and cooking were also part of the new site.

Revisions to the site began on May 13, following a "dialogue of feedback" at the company, which began late May 11, said John Pope, senior manager in global consumer PR for Dell.

“Within a few hours we began monitoring it closely,” said Pope, “We have tools that enable us to listen quite broadly. Based on what we heard on Wednesday, we began making changes to the site's content, which generated a fair amount of recognition that we were listening and acting.”

A company spokesperson also ran a blog post on May 15, emphasizing the company's interest in listening to the mixed feedback, adjustments, and sales occurring “at a rate higher than we expected.”

“We've made the "tech tips" section, well, more technical,” the post stated. “We'll be incorporating more business-oriented products and information. And there's less pink. We are listening.”

The situation was not characterized by the company to be a crisis, because “crises arise when organizations are not part of the conversation, either because they aren't listening or ignore what people are saying,” said Pope.

Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick agrees with this assessment, as Dell responded and “made a course correction.”

“[In this instance], it's just people criticizing… Whenever a high profile company has any issue it just becomes news much quicker and maybe creates a bigger storm of attention,” said Gaines-Ross who compared the incident to J. Crew's Web site revamp last year, rather than the Domino's debacle.

However, Ellen LaNicca Albanese, EVP of CRT/tanaka's consumer practice, noted it was in the least a “communications glitch.”

The computers may have been intended for a particular demo, but they offended a broad base of women “with their standard clichés,” she said. “What works is engaging women in meaningful conversation about what makes their life easier.”

The "overt sexism and pink treatment" also distract the consumer from the product's core offerings, she added.

“If they act quickly to get feedback from women, and they take that feedback seriously... Maybe this will work out for them like Dell Hell, where they came out and faced the music and then tried to fix the situation,” added Kelley Skoloda, partner at Ketchum and author of Too Busy to Shop: Marketing to Multi-Minding Women.

While the site will continue to be “refined,” Dell's Pope argues that critics' assessment of the campaign as a “think pink” marketing maneuver is not a fair assessment. The initiative went forward with an internal team largely composed of women and it conducted focus groups.

“[The company is] looking at people who value that convergence of technology, style and personalization... A lot of women value that, some don't clearly, but the important thing was that we listened, and we've made changes really quickly based on that feedback,” said Pope.

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