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When Ads Go Strange: Cheetos Inspires the "Orange Underground"


The snack makers saw a market ripe for a subversive mentor.

Cheetos, invented in 1948 by Charles Elmer Doolin of San Antonio, Texas, have always had something of a religious following.

Perhaps it's the addictive nature of the "extruded cheese-flavored snack," as they are called in the industry.

Or, maybe it's the preponderance of the Jesus-shape Cheetos, referred to as "Cheesus" in the singular, which seem to turn up more frequently than, say, Jesus-shape Combos or Jesus-shape pork rinds.




Regardless, while the snack has historically been marketed to kids, a couple of years ago, Cheetos manufacturer Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo (PEP), turned to San Francisco ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners -- known for its outstanding creative work -- to increase sales to adults.

According to a GSP case study, when Frito-Lay approached the shop "with the task of repositioning Cheetos away from kids and toward adults, there was real fear in the air."

It continues:

Research showed that a majority of Cheetos were actually purchased by adults, for adults. And all of the adult Cheetos lovers we heard from were proud to still enjoy such a playfully silly snack. In fact, when we searched the Web we found thousands of goofballs and pranksters quite literally messing around with Cheetos -- putting them up noses on Flickr, lighting them on fire on YouTube, and bathing in tubs of them on their Facebook pages. We had a fully formed subculture of irreverent Cheeto-loving "kidults and rejuveniles" to tap into. All we had to do was activate them and turn their individual acts of Cheetos transgression into a movement… an Orange Underground that proudly challenged adult conventions and stuck it to the Man by performing Random Acts of Cheetos.

Here's how the creative team charged with the task attempted to do that:

Goodby's report goes on to state that "our ads used a more worldly, grown-up Chester Cheetah -- the sunglasses-wearing cool cat Id-on- our-shoulder who helps us liberate our mischievous side and fight back against too much adulthood…It's all gloriously stupid and infantile."

Apparently, "gloriously stupid and infantile" sells snacks, because the campaign "translated into a nearly 30% sales increase for Cheetos."

Cheesus, that's good marketing.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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