Why Frito-Lay Is Returning To Its Super Bowl Playbook

Ann Mukherjee, group vp of marketing for Frito-Lay, has upped the ante for consumers who want to create Doritos’ next Super Bowl spot. While previous winners got $1 million, now the prize is $5 million, an amount the snack giant said it will dole out if all three of its consumer-generated ads for the chips brand top USA Today’s Super Bowl XLIV Ad Meter. In raising the stakes, the PepsiCo unit is pushing fans’ creativity to the limits, Mukherjee said. Case in point: Consumers voted last year’s “Free Doritos” ad by brothers Dave and Joe Herbert their favorite among the Super Bowl ad lineup, besting spots by the country’s top ad agencies. Mukherjee, a 2007 Brandweek Marketer of the Year, chatted about Super Bowl plans and other issues, including Doritos’ strategy for social media. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.

Brandweek: You’re increasing the prize money and airing three—not two—consumer-generated spots in Super Bowl XLIV. Why up the stakes for next year?
Ann Mukherjee:  [For Super Bowl XLIII], we said, “Hey, we’ll give you a million bucks if you can get [the] No. 1 [spot on USA Today’s Ad Meter].” Did we think it could actually happen? We had hopes, but [the Herbert brothers] did it. Every time we raise the bar, our consumers step up. That’s why we raised the bar again [for next year].

BW: How much social media and online buzz did last year’s winning spot, “Free Doritos,” by brothers Joe and Dave Herbert, generate?
AM:  It exceeded all of our expectations. It was No. 1 on Twitter and on YouTube. You look at any kind of social media [outlet] out there, and we were at the top. But it wasn’t just about being [No. 1]. It was about those
two guys. They were the heroes of our story, and that’s what people were ecstatic about. That kind of social buzz only happens because people want to talk about it, not because a brand pushes its message out there [in the hopes that] people react to it.

BW: What was the biggest insight gained from last year’s Crash the Super Bowl contest?
AM:  Our biggest lesson, and we’ve seen it now over a period of time, is this notion of how people who are just amateurs, who don’t have any kind of professional training, can have the kind of creativity it takes to create a winning Super Bowl ad. That kind of approachability to that kind of everyday person is what unlocks the magic of this program. In leveraging that insight, one of the things the Herbert brothers will do for us—to pass on the throne or crown, so to speak—is when our Web site goes live on Sept. 21. You will see a series of hilarious tutorials that demystify the process of winning the Super Bowl [ad] contest. They are going to do these wonderful tutorials around [topics like] “What does it take to do a [fine] editing job?” and “What do you need to do the production?” and “Where do you find the budget to hire an actor?”…They’ve also been doing satellite media tours to talk [about their experiences] at the local media market level.

BW: Super Bowl buzz aside, how savvy is Doritos when it comes to social or digital media marketing?
AM:  I don’t know if we’re savvy. I don’t know how to measure savvy. What I do know how to measure is engagement. One of the things that we believe very strongly in our marketing at Frito-Lay is never to chase the media or fad or whatever is the latest cool thing to do. What we try to do instead is figure out “What are the ideas?” The core of the idea with Doritos is these are young adults who want to break the rules and be in control. That will never change. What kind of ideas and entertainment can we give them? What opportunities can we offer to help them discover themselves? Whether it’s running a contest for the first consumer-generated Xbox game or giving them a never-been-done-before gaming experience via our interactive haunted house online or a personalized concert in your hand with blink-182 that leverages augmented reality, these are all things we leverage the digital space for because that is where our consumer lives. Are [these efforts] the most savvy? I don’t know, but [they’ve resulted in our consumers] being engaged.

BW: So, it’s not just about being savvy or not in social media. There’s something else to it?
AM: Yes. Take SunChips, another Frito-Lay brand [for instance]. That consumer is someone who is looking to live brightly. These are consumers who like to see the glass half full. We did a teaser campaign this year because we are [converting to] fully compostable snack bags in 2010…The team [designed] this one spot to tell everyone how it was happening. They ran it once and because of this multiple screen world, someone saw it, Tweeted about it, and do you know who that someone was? It was Demi Moore. And all of a sudden, on the social media space, it explodes. Did we plan that? No. Did we know people would pick it up? Yes. But if you want this to be successful and explode, it’s got to be organic. If you start planting stuff, consumers will sniff that out in a second. To be a truly successful brand in this space, you have to be authentic and organic.

BW: Earlier, you talked about how Doritos fans love that element of control in their lives. Do you think this notion of “control” is even more important now in a recession?
AM:  [Absolutely.] One of the biggest things in these tough economic times is people are feeling a sense of lack of control: “My 401(k) is not what it used to be.” “I don’t know if my job is secure.” “I don’t know what my future plans are.” Giving people ways to take a break from all the craziness in the world, giving them some sort of entertainment outlet, giving them something that says, “Hey, this is not just fun. I can actually use this to unlock possibilities I might be passionate about that I never knew before.” These [are reasons why] Crash the Super Bowl is more important now than ever. It’s giving someone a chance to open up an agency, to start his/her own film company, to do whatever they want because we unlock their creativity for them to win money.    

BW: In raising the stakes, don’t you think the contest is a bit daunting this year?
AM: Is the barrier of entry higher than filling out a questionnaire? Absolutely yes. But if you go back and look at the winners from previous years, the first year, the winners were teenagers who spent $12 and got really creative with a camera. The poor guy didn’t even have a dolly. He had to wear rollerblades to make his camera move. There’s no high barrier of entry if you think outside the box. This year’s winners spent $2,000, primarily to feed the people that did the ad for free. You have to come up with an ingenious idea and once you do, there are so any tools out there that make [Crash the Super Bowl] such an incredibly fun exercise.

BW: What’s your marketing philosophy on Doritos? How do you keep the brand healthy in tough times?
AM: One of the things that makes for ongoing, healthy success of a brand is consistency. With Doritos, one of the things we’ve stayed true to is consistency with its purpose, which is to unleash the potential of our consumer and to give them control. That’s always principle No. 1. Principle No. 2 is understanding how the trends of our passionate consumers are evolving. One of the trends we’re seeing among today’s young adults who are of the millennial generation is they are a group of people who are not only creative, but have incredible multi-tasking capabilities. They live in a world that we call hyperlife. They have their favorite music on their iPods, favorite shows on TV, they are IMing their friends. This is a consumer that lives in a world of multiple screens. If you are going to engage with consumers, how do you deliver not just advertising, but content that has the ability to morph into multiple screens because the content tells a story that they care to follow and share? That is where I think you will see the consistency in Doritos and what keeps Doritos fresh is always finding out how to deliver that in never-before-done ways.

BW: Best and worst marketing experience you’ve had while overseeing the Doritos brand.
AM: The [best] moment [would have to be when] you see one of the winners in Crash the Super Bowl realize their life is about to change because they won the contest. It’s one of the most rewarding moments. I personally witness it. We put them in front of the TV set, they have chairs and they sit there. The moment they find out is the moment the spot airs. I am literally looking at them. I’m not watching the TV because I know who wins. I just watch their faces. It is an incredible moment. Our CEO [Al Carey], his favorite thing about the Super Bowl is to be in that suite at that moment. It is a high that is unbelievable. Each finalist is listening for that first sound beat because they know what their spot sounds like. It’s also the worst moment because there are the other finalists who are so incredibly talented and you just want all of them to win.

BW: Tell us one interesting and seldom known fact about yourself.

AM: My undergraduate background training is actually in religious theology, not in marketing. I actually wanted to be a minister…And so, one of my greatest passions is to collect Buddhas from all over the world. It’s amazing to look at Buddhas from different cultures because the reflection of how they make the Buddha is a reflection of their culture.

BW: And, your favorite Frito-Lay snack product?
AM: My favorite snack depends on whomever I’m eating it with. So, if I’m snacking with my daughter, it’ll be a Cheetos Giant. If it’s my son, it’s Peppercorn Ranch SunChips, as that’s his favorite snack…The thing I love most about our product is we bring smiles to people’s faces.