Justin Lambeth and Gannon Jones, Frito-Lay

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The resulting campaign began with a spot, dubbed “Fireworks,” which showed salt-of-the-earth workers gathered for a ritual harvesting of potatoes. As men, women and children rush to the fields with wagons, baskets and lawn chairs, a lone farmer unearths a potato from the ground. A group of children motion for him to hurriedly come back, and then it’s revealed why: Potatoes start shooting up from the ground and exploding into Lay’s potato chips. The spot then zooms in on a little girl with a red dress, snacking happily on the chip. The voiceover reminds consumers of Lay’s three ingredients.

Next followed a series of regional and national ads that featured farmers whose potatoes eventually wind up in Lay’s bags.

Lay’s, in turn, knew it’d hit pay dirt when retailers started responding. Lambeth, of Frito-Lay, recalled the case of one retailer that had “a reputation of being really tough on price” steering away from the topic and diving right into Lay’s local efforts at the start. “[Our CEO, Al Carey] got into the meeting and all they wanted to talk about was Lay’s local,” he says. “That’s when I realized how big of an idea this was.”

Frito-Lay has since extended the campaign. Other elements include a Lay’s Happiness Exhibit, in partnership with People magazine, which encouraged consumers to share their happy memories—via photos—with others. It even went as far as to install growing spuds on the ceiling of the Jackson subway tunnel in Chicago to emphasize the fact that Lay’s are really grown at home. To offer incontrovertible evidence of the fact, Lay’s recently kicked off a mobile greenhouse tour across America so visitors can see growing potato plants and meet some of its farmers.

Lynn Dornblaser, an analyst who tracks packaged-goods trends at Mintel, says Lay’s has successfully educated Americans about where potato chips come from: “Lay’s doesn’t make any claim to be healthy or something that’s good for you. They talk about being a delicious treat. But to be able to marry that with [simple, familiar ingredients] is really smart.”

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Farm Aid

Ads for Lay’s, from Juniper Park, underscored the fact that the chips are made from potatoes by spotlighting real farmers. One, Brian Kirschenmann, is a fifth-generation potato farmer whose great, great grandfather supposedly brought the first potato to California. In another ad, farmers identified as “Big Jack” and “Little Jack” note that their family has been growing potatoes for Lay’s since 1964. And Darrell McCrum, a farmer in Mars Hill, Maine, jokes that he thinks that he “recognizes that one,” when munching on a Lay’s chip while standing in front of a giant mound of potatoes.