Kristin Shoemaker blogs at OStatic and Linux Librarian. She likes to take things apart and see if she can put them back together again in new and better ways. And she’s not impressed with Dell’s latest attempts to market netbooks toward women.


Dell seems to have gotten itself in a gender bender. Fine, that’s a bad play on words, but so is re-coloring your netbook models and adding a trailing “a” to your company’s name to make your products  more appealing to women.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I suppose I have to make this criticism a little more constructive by pointing out something vaguely positive about the Della-branded Inspiron Minis. They aren’t simply pink (but purchasing a pink model will get the very worthy Susan G. Komen Foundation a $5 donation), and the adhesive overlays are reasonably okay looking. And I suppose that some tech gadgets are  harder to sell to at least some women, and highlighting appealing aspects to a particular customer base is expected and appropriate.

I’m willing to bet a fair amount of legal tender that netbooks aren’t a hard gadget to sell to women. But whether you’re a woman who is very technically inclined, or one who wants a neat, compact little gadget that’s heftier than a cell and could care less about the technical stuff — you’re probably not going to take kindly to being simultaneously target marketed and stereotyped.

I’m not quite as put off by the “cute” references as Nicole Price Fasig over at Gearlog, because netbooks are kind of cute. I’m also the kind of woman who finds flexible ratcheting screwdrivers and extra long SATA cabling totally delightful, so perhaps my definition of “cute” is skewed.  Fasig is spot-on about the overall tone the Della site conveys.

In fact, one of her major sticking points was one of mine, as well. The Della home page beckoned  me to click the topic labeled “Tech Tips.” (How could I resist? C’mon!)  “Tech Tips” helpfully details  seven absolutely shocking ways that a netbook could change my life.  I can read books on it, and manage my schedule on it, much the same way I do with my big, ugly, testosterone-oozing desktop computer.  That’s not the cringe-worthy part, though.  Hold on, girlfriends — I can also manage my diet and weight loss program, find recipes and use my Mini as a “meditation buddy.”  Somebody in Dell’s marketing department seriously pitched to a group of non-marketing colleagues, “We can say it’s a great ‘meditation buddy’ and tell these women to schedule times for yoga and meditation exercises in ‘Remember the Milk‘ or Google Calendar!”  Those non-marketing colleagues then said, “That’s a great idea!”

Are any of those people women? Have any of them ever talked to women? Seen women? Was there a focus group involved — consisting of women?

I understand — completely — that I am somewhat of an anomaly. I have more tubes of Arctic Silver around my house than I do lipstick.  Panty hose are not only incredibly uncomfortable, they generate a ton of static electricity and static electricity  is a bad, bad thing when you’re jamming a stubborn PCI-E video card on a motherboard that’s already stuffed full of add-on boards.  I know that I’m not the norm, but the June Cleaver – Paris Hilton hybrid that the Della site seems to be targeting isn’t an anomaly – it’s a myth.

So Dell/Della, here’s a hint: Netbooks are cute, they are cool, and they are useful. These little devices appeal to a lot of people — men and women — who are not technologically inclined. It’s smart to market to them. Please keep in mind, however, they simply aren’t interested in the ins and outs of the technology — they are not dumb, and they are not cardboard cutouts.  They are unique, individual people. Show them what your netbook can do for them, but for the love of pete, don’t insult them while doing so.

via Netbook Reports, with a special thanks to Brad for pointing this out, and giving me the soapbox

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11 replies on “Ain’t I a Woman? Della Markets Inspirons to Women”

  1. That is so ridiculous. I have never preferred Dell computers and this article gives me one more reason to dislike them.

    I don’t see Sony coming out with an alternate brand called Sonya, so why did Dell feel inclined to do it?

  2. OK, so I don’t know what Arctic Silver is, and I own a pink netbook, that ultimate Liliputing scapegoat (although why do they never know how to make those? Maybe I’m not just “expressing myself”, maybe I want to actually see the colour I chose – on the inside of my netbook!).

    I get the feeling that a women’s writer – probably for a fashion mag – may have helped them out. Mainstream young women’s magazines seem to like the cutesy-punny tone in almost everything they write about. I read one article in a teen one once where they kept referring to their petite participant as “teeny” and “a pixie”. Belittling much?

    OK, I get marketing netbooks to women. We’re less likely to complain about keyboard size, and we’re already lugging around so much stuff that anything to help lighten the load is appreciated. However, the other laptops they’re advertising (chosen solely on the basis of colour customisation, of course) are all 15.6″+ beasts that I would never look at twice due to how heavy they’d be! “It’s totally cute, you can change it” really does seem to be the main, insipid message of the site.

    Kristin – any chance you can send this article to Feministing as well? They would rip this ridiculous site APART.

    1. Hi Leah,

      Actually — I love the smaller keyboard on my Eee 701 series (the tactile feedback/responsiveness leaves something to be desired)… And I suppose my only beef with the pink varieties of any electronic device is suddenly it’s “woman friendly!” (The Verizon rep gave me an off look when I responded to the “Do you want a pink Blackberry?” with “I want the one that looks like a real phone, thanks.”) So no real issues with pink gadgets except that it seems to be, “Look, it’s for ladies!” Would the Verizon rep offer (or look oddly) if a guy wanted a pink phone for himself?

      I think a lot of women who aren’t technically inclined would find a lot to like about netbooks for the reasons you’ve mentioned, and it shouldn’t at all be a hard sell — but Dell seriously just made it infinitely more of a challenge for themselves.

      I asked Brad, and he’s okay (as the publisher) with me submitting this to Feministing. We both thank you for the suggestion.


  3. Whats next? Targeting blacks, asians or hispanics? What about little people or AA members? Want to take any guesses as to how that would be received? Why is this any different?

    1. Were people this upset when some company called their netbook the ‘Yoga’ a few months ago? It even came out plastered with imagery to sell it showing women?

  4. Personally, I think some people, regardless of gender, don’t posses the intelligence necessary to be offended by the della campaign or others like it. The same people who shop Whole Foods, brag about their hybrid, eat Panera and drink Starbucks just don’t have the capacity to recognize they indeed are being insulted by cookie-cutter stereotyping.

    Why would anyone use a piece of paper for a grocery list? Why wouldn’t you use technology to help you focus on clearing your mind of material thoughts and worries? Valid questions, but these people are too jaded to answer them or even be bothered.

    The ones who are offended and yet still make the purchase are only validating the marketing. So this is obviously much to do about nothing.

    I say buy it or don’t. But don’t whine if you’re still willing to buy.


    :::retreats to flame-proof bunker:::

  5. Hi MonkeyKing1969,

    (Having a bit of a Twilight Zone moment after having had a lengthy “monkey king” discussion with family members this weekend — no kidding)

    That’s a really good point you make, actually, and an interesting parallel with women’s magazine publishers. I think that if it is the case, Dell might find it’s a lot more effective in publishing (where revenue is often generated more by advertisers and sponsors than subscriptions or actual “product sales”). Although it’s an interesting observation that the site does sort of treat the Inspiron like a continually updating magazine (at least there’s no noxious perfume odor — I believe ASUS tried that, actually, but we see how far that went).

    It would be interesting to see what (if any, I imagine there HAD to be) focus groups were used when launching and designing the whole Della campaign — and what that feedback was (and if it was even taken into consideration). There are, of course, a lot of women (and men) interested in cooking, fitness, and organizing their schedules, and while it’s not an inherently bad thing to mention, the delivery and presentation didn’t need to feel quite so condescending and — vacant.

    The idea of building a female-oriented discussion site and community around the Inspiron isn’t a bad one, but the execution’s going to be a turn off to women (techie or no) who are interested in picking one up. They might still purchase one, but the site’s presence isn’t going to be a real factor in that decision.

  6. What if they are all women?

    See that’s the scary part. There is every reason to believe that women marketing experts at Dell see other women consumers as a bunch of dopes. Marketing people hold ‘everyone’ in contempt, gender be damed. Ever notice Vogue, Elle, and other fashion magazibnes have mostly female staffs, that doesn’t stop them from peddleing garbage to other women.

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