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Wise Hopes Rock Dudes Will Top Cheesy Cheetah

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It’s been quite a run for Chester Cheetah. The mischievous cartoon mascot for Cheetos has been on the prowl for two decades, in the process helping Frito-Lay pounce on top of the cheese-flavored snack category. At least until now, that is. Smaller rival Wise Foods is planning to provide the cat with a little competition by fusing digital technology with its own cartoon mascots—guys, this time, not felines.

Wise is rolling out a digital campaign to support “Cheez Dudes,” a trio of rock-band mascots introduced in August as the faces of the Cheez Doodles snack brand. The idea is to use new digital technologies to bring the characters to life and, in the process, hopefully align the brand with the teen demographic.

The centerpiece of the push is an augmented-reality game called “Rock the Cheez” that invites players to create their own rock video by arranging printouts in front of their computer’s Web cam. The videos are collected on the site and entered into a competition. The winning entry gets $1,000 and its creator gets a set of instruments—real ones. According to Kevin Foltz, brand manager at Wise Foods, based in Berwick, Pa., the prize is mean to foster kids’ creative side. “We were trying to step out a little bit with this brand and give it some new energy and life,” he said.

Augmented reality has become a favorite pet tech tool of brands, particularly those focused on younger demos. General Mills’ Honey Nut Cheerios recently incorporated augmented-reality patterns onto its cereal box, allowing people to hold it up to their Web cams to see an AR experience.
So far, however, most of these types of executions have fallen flat because there isn’t much interactivity, according to D.J. Edgerton, CEO of Zemoga, the digital shop that created the Cheez Doodles campaign. Its game, he said, requires some imagination.

“Having augmented reality for the sake of augmented reality is still just a fancy way of pushing out a message,” Zemoga explained. “We’re challenging kids to be creative with the technology, create something and share it.”

The larger effort at work here is Wise’s attempt to raise the age of Cheez Doodles’ core snackers a bit, from the 8-12 group to the lucrative teen demographic. Though typically conservative in its approach, Wise saw an opportunity to lend the Cheez Doodles brand a little swagger with the trio of rockers, according to Foltz. The three dudes include the rebel, the beat master and the rocker. Fostering creativity is an important hook for the effort. The Cheez Doodles site is equipped with a “Design-a-Doodle” sketching tool.

Of course, this sort of demographic maneuvering isn’t easy. The trick is to keep the characters fresh without being so hip that it alienates existing users. In recent years, Cheetos has attempted to appeal to an adult demo by using Chester Cheetah in a campaign that had him encouraging people to use Cheetos in acts of revenge. According to Foltz, thrusting a kids character into adult scenarios is risky. Chester, he said, was “once cute and cuddly [but is] now old and creepy.”

Time will tell how well the Cheez Dudes will play with the public. Wise plans to gradually use the Cheez Doodles site and social networks like Facebook to flesh out each mascot character. All three already have magazine-style Q&As on CheezDoodles.com and the band has a Facebook fan page. “We want to allow our consumers to identify with an individual” mascot, said Foltz. “Each one is unique, but they all play together in the same band.”