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Flamin’ Hot: This Super Bowl ad has a life of its own

The big-game ad is Frito Lay’s latest move in creating a flavor that jumps across products.

Flamin’ Hot: This Super Bowl ad has a life of its own

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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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