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Frito-Lay is radically changing its Super Bowl ad strategy

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

There has been a Doritos ad in the past 10 Super Bowls, and a Pepsi ad in the past six—but not this time. In Super Bowl 51 on Feb. 5, PepsiCo will only run one in-game ad, and it will be for LIFEWTR, its fancy new water brand.

That means no Pepsi brand ad (there will be a Pepsi Zero Sugar promo during the halftime show, but no in-game ad), no Doritos ad (because the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, which put fan-created ads in the game, ended last year), and no Tostitos ad (Tostitos has never run a Super Bowl spot, but is the “official chip of the NFL” and has thus run many ads with NFL players). You could say PepsiCo is switching up its strategy.

“As we think about the media landscape and what’s changing, we want to make sure that we continue to give consumers an opportunity to engage with the Doritos brand more on an everyday basis,” says Frito-Lay North American CMO Jennifer Saenz. In other words: not just in the one moment of the Super Bowl.

So, what is PepsiCo, and its chip subsidiary Frito Lay, doing instead?

First, it has combined Pepsi and Tostitos (something they’ve done before) in three different digital spots with current NFL stars (as it happens, none who will be in the game): New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, and Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. (Miller, in particular, has quickly become one of the most marketed faces of the sport since the Broncos won the Super Bowl last year; he has active deals with Adidas, Old Spice, Microsoft, and many more.) 

In addition, PepsiCo and Frito-Lay have 30,000 retail displays at grocers across the country that bundle the two brands together.


NFL linebacker Von Miller (L) in new Pepsi-Tostitos digital spot

But most interesting is what Tostitos is doing with Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker, whose aunt and uncle were killed by a drunk driver just hours after their nephew played in Super Bowl 47. Tostitos, in partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Uber, has created “party safe” chip bags with a built-in alcohol sensor to promote awareness of drunk driving.

The bag lights up blue (it looks a lot like the top of an Amazon Echo) when you turn it on; you blow on a sensor at the top, and the bag turns red if there’s alcohol on your breath, green if there isn’t. If red, it shows an Uber code that can be redeemed for a ride home from wherever you watched the game. (It is not a breathalyzer, in the traditional sense; it will not tell you if you are over the legal limit for driving. It will simply remind you, if there is alcohol on your breath, to be cautious.)

The “party safe” bags will not be sold at retailers. Tostitos is only sending out 1,000 of them (to pre-identified fans of the brand), which could certainly lead critics to dismiss it as a promotional stunt. But admittedly, the all-black bag is a slick conversation-starter and would be a hit at any party. It marries weird tech with a positive message. And normal retail bags of Tostitos Scoops sold in the days before the Super Bowl will also yield a $10 Uber code (by entering the last five digits of the UPC bar code) for the first 25,000 people to redeem after the game ends. The goal is to take 25,000 cars off the road, Frito-Lay says.

A 30-second Super Bowl ad runs $5 million this year, the highest price ever, even though the NFL muddled through a year with falling TV ratings. Saenz of Frito-Lay says the Super Bowl is still “a cultural phenomenon, and I don’t see that changing.” But what Frito-Lay is doing with its digital spots and alcohol-sensor bags is one new road map for how to make a splash around the game without a traditional TV spot.

As PepsiCo North American CMO Seth Kaufman says, the Super Bowl ad game these days is “more about, how do you lean in and truly create a media-to-shelf experience?” Fans and media (including us, admittedly) are already talking about the alcohol-sensor bags; that creates buzz for Tostitos, and achieves Kaufman’s aim. And it’s all without dropping $5 million on 30 seconds of airtime.

Then again, Tostitos isn’t saying how much it spent on the party safe bags, and considering it only made 1,000, and that the battery takes up most of the bag, they likely didn’t come cheap.

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Sportsbook is our recurring sports business video series.

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