Case Study: Doritos Chips “The Loudest Taste on Earth” Ad Campaign

The Frito Company began operations in San Antonio, Texas, in 1932 and merged with H. W. Lay & Company to form Frito-Lay in 1961. Four years later, Frito-Lay merged with the Pepsi-Cola Company to form PepsiCo, and during the 1990s the snack food division became known as the Frito-Lay Company. In 1997 Frito-Lay expanded its product lines in Europe, Australia, and South America by purchasing salty snack brands in countries there, and in the United States it acquired the Cracker Jack brand of candy-coated popcorn and peanuts. Frito-Lay made nine of the 10 top-selling brands of snack chips in the United States, including Lay’s and Ruffles potato chips, Cheetos cheese puffs, Rold Gold pretzels, and Tostitos and Doritos tortilla chips. The company’s first product had been Fritos corn chips, which were promoted for years by a character called the Frito Kid and later with the tag line ‘‘Munch a Bunch! of Fritos Brand Corn Chips.’’ Humor had worked well in marketing for various Frito-Lay brands. A 1996 ad campaign for Baked Lay’s potato crisps featured a popular puppet character named Miss Piggy and three fashion models devouring the low-fat snack without worrying about gaining weight. The ads produced a rush to buy the product, and Baked Lay’s went on to become the most successful new product in Frito-Lay’s history, generating more than $250 million in sales in its first year. Another campaign that began in 1994 and ran for several years featured comedian Chris Elliott as a good-natured man who could liven up any occasion by producing a bag of Tostitos tortilla chips. The tag line was ‘‘You Got Tostitos, You Got a Party.’’ In one spot Elliott displayed Tostitos in an attempt to impress women, but the women took the Tostitos and rejected him. Frito-Lay’s ‘‘better-for-you’’ low-fat products generated $1 billion annually, but controversy arose in 1996 when some consumers reported gastrointestinal problems after eating foods that contained olestra, a fat replacer also known by the brand name Olean. A one-ounce serving of Doritos MAX Tortilla Chips with Olean had one gram of fat and 90 calories, compared to seven grams of fat and 140 calories in a serving of original Doritos. ‘‘The idea of no-fat snacks is hugely appealing to millions of people,’’ said Dennis Heard, Frito-Lay’s senior vice president of technology and operations. ‘‘Our testing of olestra is to determine whether this new ingredient can be made to work and deliver that important benefit to our customers. As with any new product, ultimately the consumer must decide.’’ He added that ‘‘Frito-Lay would never make any product that intentionally could cause people to become sick.’’

In 1995 and 1996 Frito-Lay’s low-fat products accounted for 47 percent of the company’s growth, and they figured prominently in its marketing plans. A campaign for Reduced Fat Doritos debuted on the telecast of the Summer Olympics in 1996 and extended into 1997. The commercials showed physicians examining a man who had tried the new tortilla chips and was so startled by their good flavor that an expression of surprise had frozen on his face. In addition to the advertising campaign, Frito-Lay launched a nationwide promotion in which 5 million consumers in 4,500 supermarkets were given ‘‘mystery samples,’’ black bags that contained Reduced Fat Doritos. The words ‘‘So . . . what is it? The answer is in the bag!’’ were printed next to a bright yellow and red question mark on the front of the package. On the back were the words ‘‘It’s not what you think it is.’’ Inside was a coupon and a printed message identifying the tortilla chips as Reduced Fat Doritos.

Frito-Lay’s launched an advertising campaign in 1997 to focus on a narrow market for its Doritos brand of flavored tortilla chips, to introduce new Doritos products, and to increase the international sales of tortilla chips. Doritos were the top-selling tortilla chips in the United States, but previous advertising had targeted a broad audience, and public awareness of the brand had begun to decline. ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ ad campaign, which was launched in April 1977 and ran into 1998, was developed by BBDO Worldwide, New York, an agency that had been doing business with Frito-Lay’s parent company, PepsiCo, for decades. In 1997 the ad budget for Doritos was increased significantly, to $40 million. ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign ran in the United States, where Doritos were already popular, and then in several other countries. PepsiCo’s net sales increased during 1997, with the Doritos brand showing particularly strong growth.

Doritos Chips "The Loudest Taste on Earth" Ad Campaign

Target Audience

In 1997 Frito-Lay decided to reposition Doritos as the snack of choice for a specific group of consumers. A 1996 campaign called ‘‘Get a Life’’ had targeted a broad market, primarily consumers 12 to 34 years old, with the message that Doritos was ‘‘everybody’s snack.’’ One spot, for example, featured a masseur who was energized by snacking on Doritos. In contrast, ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign was intended to appeal to a narrower market of consumers, people 16 to 21 years old. These consumers, known as Generation Xers, tended to enjoy alternative music and had grown up watching rock videos on MTV. The campaign emphasized that Doritos were flavorful, that they made a loud crunch when they were eaten, and that it was acceptable for young people to be exuberant and uninhibited. One television commercial showed a middle-aged man going berserk because three young men were eating Doritos to the accompaniment of deafening rock and roll. The older man cried out in frustration as he rushed past the young men to unplug their stereo, but the music continued. He then cut down a power pole, causing a citywide blackout. The music stopped abruptly, and he looked relieved. The young men glanced mischievously at each other while one of them crumpled an empty Doritos bag. He then ripped open a new bag, the music started again, and the older man bellowed in exasperation. The voice-over said, ‘‘Doritos tortilla chips. The loudest taste on earth.’’

Tortilla chips were particularly popular in the United States, where per capita consumption of the crunchy corn snack was nearly five pounds a year. In an average month one bag of Doritos was sold for each household in the country. Many consumers snacked on tortilla chips instead of cooking, a practice that Frito-Lay hoped to encourage by positioning its chips and dips as convenience meals. For consumers who were concerned about gaining weight, Frito-Lay promoted its low-calorie lines during the same months ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign was being broadcast.

Advertising Strategy

Frito-Lay planned to make Doritos a priority in 1997 by introducing new lines and airing blockbuster commercials in the United States and in other countries. In January the company asked ad agency BBDO Worldwide, New York, and affiliated agency DDB Needham Worldwide to present ideas for a new Doritos campaign. DDB Needham had been handling the company’s Cheetos, Rold Gold, and Fritos accounts. BBDO had been doing business with Pepsi-Cola for more than 30 years and was handling Frito-Lay’s Tostitos, Ruffles, and Lay’s accounts, among others. BBDO was awarded the Doritos account and developed ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign, with the Lay’s account given to DDB Needham soon afterward. At the end of the year, however, PepsiCo reviewed the way its national television commercials, worth about $170 million annually, were being planned and purchased. Several ad agencies were considered, but in the end all of the Frito-Lay accounts were consolidated with BBDO. ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign stressed that Doritos were flavorful tortilla chips that made a loud crunch when they were eaten. Because making a noise while eating was frowned upon in many social situations, the joy of being ‘‘allowed to be loud’’ was intended to appeal to young people, who liked to challenge the rules of etiquette. With their driving rock and roll sound tracks, the commercials also brought to mind the many times such young people had heard their parents tell them to lower the volume of their music. Above all, the campaign conveyed an attitude of unrestrained exhilaration. The people in the ads were having a good time with their friends as they snacked on Doritos. ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign was launched in April. The first of 20 spots, ‘‘Boy,’’ opened with an angelic looking woman with short, platinum blond hair. In a clear, sweet voice she sang, ‘‘There once was a boy who wanted everything to be loud.’’ The camera showed a long-haired teenager tearing open a bag of Doritos, with the words ‘‘LOUD LOUD LOUD’’ flashed across the screen as the music changed into pounding rock and roll. ‘‘You’re allowed to be loud,’’ the song continued, as a series of wildly colorful music video images followed. The boy began to fly, a plastic cow fell down, a walking Doritos bag paraded along a runway like a fashion model, people rode Doritos bags through city streets, and an enormous Doritos tortilla chip tumbled down an avenue. ‘‘The hundred decibel, in-your-face taste of Doritos,’’ said the voice-over, and the singer concluded, ‘‘The loudest taste on earth.’’ The woman in the ad was Crushing Underground’s Mary Wood, a performer and jingle producer who had helped write the music for ‘‘Boy.’’ She also performed in another spot in the campaign, introducing a line called Spicy Nacho Doritos. In addition to spots that looked like music videos, the campaign featured three television commercials that focused on the Doritos logo. One of Frito-Lay’s goals was to make sure that its advertising budget went toward campaigns consumers would remember and discuss. ‘‘It’s got to be a great idea first—that’s where the dollars will flow,’’ said Roger Berdusco, Frito-Lay’s vice president of marketing. To place its messages before the largest number of consumers, the company tended to run commercials during major media events, such as the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, but some of ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ spots aired during programs with young audiences, such as science fiction programs on cable.


With more than $1 billion in annual sales, Doritos was the top-selling brand in the flavored tortilla chip category and was popular throughout North and South America. Doritos accounted for 10 percent of Frito-Lay’s annual sales of about $10 billion worldwide. The company sold its products in 40 countries, was the leader in five of the 10 largest snack food markets, and had 54 percent of the salty snack market in the United States. Its closest competitors, Procter & Gamble and Borden, had 4 percent each. Pringles potato crisps, made by Proctor & Gamble, were the only top 10 snack chips in the United States not made by Frito-Lay. A third competitor, Anheuser-Busch, had given up the snack food business in 1996, selling its processing plants to Frito-Lay and its Eagle brand to Procter & Gamble.

Thus, Procter & Gamble constituted Frito-Lay’s principal competition in the United States. During 1997 Procter & Gamble continued a $40 million television advertising campaign for Pringles that had been running since 1995. The commercials originally had featured young people drumming on the cans in which Pringles were packaged, but eventually the campaign included people of all ages. The tag line, ‘‘Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop,’’ called attention to the brand’s unusual packaging, complete with lids that could be popped open and snapped shut again. Procter & Gamble said that the commercials helped increase brand awareness and improved sales of Pringles, which was the third most popular brand of potato snack in the country. According to the Snack Food Association, the brand gained 1.5 percentage points of market share in supermarkets during 1997, up from 10.2 percent in 1996. Procter & Gamble had introduced a tortilla chip line of Pringles in 1996 and was preparing to launch Fat Free Pringles, made with Olean, in 1998. Pringles containing Olean had been tested in a few markets in 1996, and within a year the brand’s sales in those markets had risen by 25 percent.

Outcome of Ad Campaign

With the relaunch of Doritos and the introduction of less fattening lines of several brands, including Baked Lay’s and Reduced Fat Doritos, Frito-Lay’s sales had been increasing for several years. The Doritos brand showed particularly strong growth in 1997, the year ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign was launched. According to Hoover’s Company Capsules, Frito-Lay experienced growth of 7.2 percent in 1997. Sales totaled $10.4 billion, up from $9.7 billion in 1996. ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign continued to run into 1998, even as Frito-Lay prepared to keep the brand’s momentum going with the launch of two more lines, Doritos 3D’s Tortilla Chips and Doritos WOW! Nacho Cheesier Tortilla Chips, made with Olean. In addition, ‘‘The Loudest Taste on Earth’’ campaign was scheduled to be broadcast in several other countries as Frito-Lay attempted to position the brand as the most popular snack for young adults around the world.

Reference: Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns. Thomas Riggs

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