Computer sales have slowed down, but has it really come to this? Dell, the world's second largest manufacturer of PCs, last week launched a cutesy site for women called "Della." What's next, "Dello" for guys? Maybe No. 1 PC maker H-P wants to do something similar like "Hewlett-Packarda" for females, and "Hewlett-Packardo," as in Ricky Ricardo, for men?
Sounds silly, just as silly as Della is. Netbooks and laptops are presented as fashion statements, and the site's "tech tips" includes a feature, "Seven Unexpected Ways a Netbook Can Change Your Life," which starts out by saying, "Once you get beyond how cute they are, you'll find that netbooks can do a lot more than check your e-mail."
Among those uses: Finding recipes online (Wow! I didn't know you could do that!), making "your mini ... your meditation buddy as you take mini-breaks throughout your day (schedule them, with reminders, on your calendar)," and using a netbook "to track calories, carbs and protein with ease, watch online fitness videos, map your running routes and more."
Can we say "condescending"?
But wait, there's more. Watch "featured artist" and fashionista Robyn Moreno in a 3-minute-and-40-second video about "How to Score at Vintage Stores." We're not talking vintage computers; we're talking vintage clothing stores. Clothing.
Then there's Della's "hot products" section that include Dell's Inspiron Mini netbooks as well as "accessories," including mice, speakers and headphones in various colors. Don't guys like different colors, too?
Some might say what Dell has done is smart marketing, but Della is just plain dumb and the audience it's geared to is not.
"There was certainly no intent to offend anyone and if we did, we apologize," said Dell spokesman Bob Kaufman. "Many people do see their laptops and netbooks as a style statement, and we want to be part of those conversations."
All Dell's sites are "designed to connect with people who support other activities and passions," Kaufman said. "It’s a great way to hear from people about their preferences around lifestyle and technology, and we welcome the opportunity to be part of the conversation."
Della is "an effort that is evolving, and one in which we hope even more women will connect with the Dell brand," Kaufman said.
Sure, these are tough economic times and the PC industry hasn't been spared from the hurt. Worldwide, PC shipments decreased 6.5 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of last year, according to research from Gartner, Inc.
Netbooks — weighing between 2 and 3 pounds, and starting at around $350 — are a bright spot for now.
"As consumers’ disposable incomes dwindle, they are flocking to buy low-cost netbook PCs, driving global shipments up by 68.5 percent in 2009 and by a whopping 2,424 percent in 2008," iSuppli Corp. said recently.
Dells' Della may be the most blatant example of the "netbooks are cute," hence "cute appeals to women" sales strategy, but it's not the only one.
HP and Sony, too, have made some of their little, lightweight laptops candidates for Vogue rather than PC World.
Fashion designer Vivienne Tam's imprint is on the — appropriately named — HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam edition.
"Tired of sacrificing glamour for digital accessories? Now you can have both: fashion and cool technology," HP says on its Web site. "HP and Vivienne Tam present the world's first designer digital clutch: the Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam Edition."
The $600 netbook, is "so small that you can carry it in your purse," HP says. "Stylish and alluring, with vibrant peony blooms signifying good fortune and prosperity (matching silk sleeve included)."
Sony's $900 VAIO Lifestyle Netbook is shown in various pictures on its site, but it's clearly a woman's hand about to grab it in one of the photos.
"Whether you're a traveling executive or a creative professional that needs constant access to your media, VAIO has a solution," Sony says on its site. "Weighing as little as 1.4 pounds with beautiful widescreen displays that maximize workspace, there's a VAIO notebook that's perfect for you."
Sony's wording is gender-neutral — "whether you're a traveling executive or a creative professional" — and thankfully, nothing about using the netbook to watch (stereotypically female) yoga or cooking videos online.
At least these computers are offered up on the companies' regular Web sites, along with other netbooks and notebooks, not promoted on a "women's site" that seems like it came right out of the pages of what was known as the "women's section" in newspapers decades ago.
Dell also promotes its Inspiron Minis on its regular Web site, sans the Paris Hilton hue, with a more PC (yes, I mean the pun) approach.
Want to market netbooks as a fashion statement? Fine. Just don't create a silo for women in a Web site like Della, that depicts females as poolside-lounging, latte-sipping ladies with little else to do than decide how to match their outfits to a computer.
There is no virtual barf bag on Della, but there should be. Oh — whoops! That wouldn't be very ladylike.