Dorothy Crenshaw May 14, 2009 | 10:33:50

Dell Gets Cute, With Backlash

Times are tough for makers of technology products.  So tough, in fact, that Dell took a leap with the launch of “Della,” its new shopping site created especially for women.

A leap backward, that is.  The site, which was unveiled a few days ago to market its line of netbooks to female customers, created an instant backlash among many women in the media and the blogosphere. The site’s design (in soothing pastels, including pinks), its photos (like a bland version of “Sex in the City,” circa 2000), and most of all, its content, seem at least ten years out of date.  The most criticized section was “Tech Tips,” which, in girlfriend-confidential tones, read, “Once you get beyond how cute they are, you’ll find that netbooks can do a lot more than check your e-mail.” It goes on to mention such groundbreaking functions as finding recipes online, tracking calories, and watching fitness videos. (What, no mascara tips?)

The good news is that Dell seems to have learned from its marketing misstep. According to spokesman Bob Kaufman, “Many people do see their laptops and netbooks as a style statement, and we want to be part of those conversations.”  It didn’t count on the kinds of conversations that Della triggered, but to Dell’s credit, it responded to the mini-backlash within hours.  As of this writing it posted an apology of sorts on the site, edited out the offending content, and responded to some pretty harsh criticism on Facebook (“Did your marketing team used to work for the car dealer who talked to my boy friend when I was buying the car, or the one who hand-picked the special “girlie” models for me, when I wanted to buy a pickup?)

The Della brouhaha shows just how tricky it can be to market to a particular segment, and how tuned you have to be to avoid mistakes. But it makes me wonder if Dell conducted basic market research among women who use PCs – in other words, did they talk to any women?

For the record, I have a Dell netbook, and I love it….for its price, its size, its practicality, and its features.  And, it has a cool paisley-ish pattern that’s different and, well, cute.  Damn cute.