As Super Bowl advertisers go, Frito-Lay is a seasoned veteran. Its ads in recent years for both Doritos and Cheetos have grabbed millions of eyeballs with a combination of celebrity and music tailor-made for the big-game audience. Last year it produced a flat Matthew McConaughey for Doritos, and then celeb couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher teamed with Shaggy for an orange-finger-stained “It Wasn’t Me” for Cheetos.
This year, Doritos and Cheetos are ceding center stage to one of the flavor options that both brands offer. That’s right: Flamin’ Hot has its very own Super Bowl ad.
The ad itself is a fun mash-up of dependable Super Bowl tropes. Cute animals? Check. Super popular celebrity? Check. Throwback hit song? That’s the hat trick right there. To be fair, the celebrity is Megan Thee Stallion doing a remix of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” but adorable forest/jungle creatures with the munchies? C’mon.
The real surprise here is Flamin’ Hot. Rachel Ferdinando, Frito-Lay’s chief marketing officer and a senior VP, says that it’s a result of the Flamin’ Hot name really taking on a life of its own in the popular culture. She says that Flamin’ Hot had 86% brand awareness in its most recent consumer study, and more than half of American consumers have tried Cheetos Flamin’ Hot.
“What we’re doing by taking this step is starting to showcase that Flamin’ Hot is much more of a lifestyle and there’s an attitude behind it,” Ferdinando says. “We’re still very invested and focused on our snacking brands, but Flamin’ Hot is definitely taking on a bigger role in our portfolio going forward.”
Flamin’ Hot has become the company’s go-to attention magnet, whether with its own products, like combining it with Doritos Cool Ranch in December; making it a limited-edition Mtn Dew flavor last summer; or branching out beyond Frito-Lay to ice cream chain Marble Slab Creamery, as well as Taco Bell with the Flamin’ Hot Doritos Locos Tacos.
Evolving culturally relevant or buzzworthy flavors into their own sub-brand is a shrewd way to continually refresh interest across a variety of product categories. The company’s parent, PepsiCo, is doing the same thing with Mtn Dew’s Baja flavors, which extend across Dew with multiple Baja versions, a frozen slushie exclusive at Taco Bell, as well as a limited line of scent sprays and apparel.
“Right now, spicy, salty snacks are growing at 12%, which is way ahead of the overall category,” Ferdinando says. “There really is a momentum and desire in the American taste buds to eat more spicy, salty snacks, and Flamin’ Hot is at the forefront of that.”
Welcome to flavor (brand) country.