Social media: Grub guru

How Frito Lay got social-media marketing right with its Doritos Guru campaign.

Screenshot of Doritos mystery flavour bags

(Frito Lay Canada)

Social-media marketing has become a must-have tool for many companies. Despite the recession, more than 90% of interactive marketers plan this year to maintain or increase spending on reaching consumers through Facebook, Twitter and the like, according to a global survey by Forrester Research. The reasons are simple. “These inexpensive tools can quickly get marketing messages out and, properly managed, can deliver measurable results,” says Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst at Forrester.

Yet despite the enthusiasm for social-media marketing — and estimates that total business spending on it will surpass US$3 billion per year by 2014 in the U.S. alone — many questions remain. Chief among them: What are the best tactics to use?

While the methods likely depend on the situation, some insights might lie in a recent promotion from Frito Lay Canada dubbed Become the Doritos Guru. The 11-week program, which ended in May, asked Canadians to come up with a catchy name and create a 30-second commercial for a new tortilla-chip flavour. The prize — beyond the obeisance of all and sundry before the crowned Doritos Guru — was $25,000, the thrill of seeing your ad on national television and 1% of the future net sales of the product. The public voted both for the five semi-finalists (with the help of a judging panel that included Toronto Raptors’ star Chris Bosh) and for the winner, who turned out to be Ryan Coopersmith, a 21-year-old Concordia film student. Together with seven friends, Coopersmith invented the flavour Scream Cheese and put together an ad that depicted people yelling in everyday situations.

The contest garnered about 30,000 fans on the Become the Doritos Guru Facebook page, 1.5 million unique visitors to its YouTube page and more than 2,000 video entries. To put that last number into perspective, Crash the Super Bowl, a 2008 Doritos contest in the U.S. that awarded the creator of the best 30-second chip ad US$1 million and showed the commercial during the big game this year, generated fewer submissions with a population 10 times the size. Perhaps most impressive, sales of Doritos jumped 22% during the promotion. “The idea really engaged people,” says Mark Evans, a social-media consultant in Toronto. “Everyone said, ‘Oooh, man, maybe I can suggest a flavour that will rule the world.’ It was a brilliant use of social media.”

Frito Lay Canada did many things right. For starters, the brand team and its partners studied the media habits of its target demographic, the so-called millennials, who are between 13 and 24. They realized many elements of the contest, from creating content to sharing videos, were activities the group regularly engaged in. To make participation easier, fans of Facebook could take part exclusively through a social networking site; those who only wanted to interact through the contest website had that choice, too.

The prize, of course, was key — people’s jaws literally dropped in response to it. It was also an ideal fit for social media. “Whether you thought it was big or small, it was definitely an interesting thing to talk about,” says Tony Matta, vice-president of marketing at Frito Lay Canada. “When we launched the campaign, we had a ton of chatter about trying to guess what 1% was.” (That will ultimately depend on sales; Matta estimates the reward could reach six-digit territory.)

While social media played a huge role, the promotion’s success really came from its integration of several communication and marketing tactics. It had a strong retail component: the new flavour was sold in a white bag with a dollar sign, and in some locations was showcased in special display racks. Doritos partnered with MuchMusic, which devoted airtime on its popular Much On Demand show to the contest, including segments that screened participants’ videos. BBDO, Doritos’ agency, produced a series of ads crafted to look unpolished. “We really wanted to give them a user-generated feel so a lot of people could go, ‘Hey man, I can do that,’” says Ian MacKellar, executive vice-president and executive creative director at the agency’s Toronto office.

The contest required Frito Lay Canada to take on considerable risk. It handed control of its image over to kids — a dare that doesn’t always have pleasant results. Interactivity, such as the ability to write on the wall of the Facebook page, resulted in a few unsavoury comments that would make many marketing execs squirm. Matta, though, says giving consumers influence over the brand is necessary. “I don’t even think it’s a choice anymore,” he says. “This is the new world of engagement.”