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The Contempt in Tangy Ranch Doritos
How the organizational behaviors behind Tangy Ranch Doritos can yield wildly different results.
Thanks for being here. This week’s topic comes in part from reader Deb (follow her on Twitter at the link).
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If you’re someone whose mundane existence has led you to ‘stick to the edges’ at grocery stores, you may not know that Doritos has two centerpiece flavors, Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese.
Over time, Doritos has experimented with a range of supporting flavors: (my beloved) Sweet Spicy Chili, Buffalo Ranch, and even Mountain Dew. The newest of this ilk to hit shelves is ‘Tangy Ranch’.
You’ve might’ve noticed Tangy Ranch is similar to Cool Ranch since it also contains the word ‘Ranch’. Two different kinds of Ranch and one of them isn’t even spicy? To clear up any confusion, Doritos assigned the bag of the newer flavor a different color scheme. The existence of a second ranch flavor implies Doritos wasn’t content with its existing penetration of the ranch-flavored tortilla chip market.
Being the greasy lil’ chip disciple I am, I tried Tangy Ranch as soon as I saw it and guess what? It tastes a lot like Cool Ranch. Leading me to wonder, what’s the point of this shit? Is it possible the team running Doritos is creatively bankrupt such that the best it could come up with is a marginally different flavor of Ranch in different packaging?
These sorts of efforts render words meaningless. Tangy, Cool, Tangy n’ Cool. Blue bag, teal bag, translucent bag. Whatever. Words don’t matter. The chip inside is the same and the only thing rendered for the consumer is disappointment.
Paradoxically, words used in the same fashion can have an opposite effect. Consider school districts in Texas incorporating masks into dress codes as a means to circumvent state bans on mask mandates.
Instead of an indistinguishable chip flavor, the end product is still a mask mandate. Both efforts involved a change in wording, and both wrought an end product not dissimilar from the original. Both efforts yielded different results, yet both employed similar thinking from the teams tasked with delivering them.
Mostly, these efforts come down to two driving organizational behaviors:
Arrogance: A belief that those devising the product are smarter than those consuming it. Doritos failed where the school districts succeeded. Doritos’ believed its reign over the flavored tortilla chip market was proof enough of its brilliance and thus ranch with a different adjective in front was a good idea. Texas school districts knew its customers--those unwilling to adorn their progeny in masks before homeroom and the state executives enacting policy in support--were ignorant of an obvious loophole and the districts were confident in their position.
Contempt for the customer: Although not overt, an attempt as brazenly hollow as Tangy Ranch Doritos indicates corporate decision makers views its customers as too dense to notice this insult to their taste buds and intelligence. Because of this, decision makers viewed the potential rewards--the successful launch of a new chip and its attendant profit--as greatly outweighing the risks--the consumer picking up on the insult to their intelligence implied by Tangy Ranch and any ensuing fallout. Conversely, the school board disdains state executives and mask-adverse parents for the lack of a codified mask mandate. In addition to obtaining its desired outcome--masks worn in school--it achieved the result by refusing to take into an opinion it considered idiotic.
How Tangy Ranch and Texas wielded arrogance and contempt highlight how crucial the ends are in constructing the means. In the case of Tangy Ranch, and most consumer products in general, it’s served Doritos poorly. In the case of Texas school districts, arrogance and contempt can be wielded in service of positive outcomes.
Of course, it’s only in hindsight that arrogance and contempt can be divined from the experience of the Tangy Ranch Dorito. That isn’t to say that an organization still can’t employ backwards thinking when considering its goals. If an organization knows its ends--a different flavor of Ranch chip--it can work backwards to audit itself for these adverse behaviors. As an org, Doritos can reflect on its history to realize it has a willing and open consumer base and ask itself the following:
How should such a group be treated? How’s it been treated historically?
Does the arrival of a mildly different Ranch flavor insult their intelligence, or does it challenge them with a wholly new experience in the same way Sweet Spicy Chili or Tangy Pickle?
The ends for the school districts were different, because the audience was different. In the context of working towards the cessation of a deadly disease, hostile parents and elected officials don’t deserve the same benefit of the doubt as Doritos customers. A sentence I never imagined I’d type.