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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

ADdicted: Cheetos #ItWasntMe

Today, Cheetos released their new Super Bowl ad.

Take a minute to watch it before you continue reading:

I'm planning to share this ad with the students in my "Strategic Marketing Communications" class this week, as we're in the process of learning what makes a good ad.

I'll provide the following three facts for context:

1. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher starred in "That 70's Show", which ran from 1998 until 2006.

2. Shaggy's "It wasn't me" was released in 2000.

3. According to the Numerator Brand Snapshot (link in comments), the demographic that over-indexes in Cheetos is "Under 24".

And then I'll ask them the following three questions:

1) Is Cheetos now trying to get an older demographic (i.e. me) to buy their snacks? And if so, does this ad risk alienating the people actually buying them today?

2) If Cheetos is still trying to appeal to a demographic under 24, why might they use actors who are best known for a show that ended 14 years ago, and a song that was released before most of the target demographic was born?

3) Without going back and rewatching the ad, can you name the "NEW" Cheetos product being featured... or did the humour and use of celebrities completely overpower the product message?

I'm especially curious to hear how my students respond to questions one and two, given they were all born after 1998; are Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, and Shaggy still relevant to this audience? We'll see.

But here's how I would answer...

Although both Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher did quite a number of other projects after "That 70's Show" ended, they're likely always going to be best known as Jackie and Kelso. If Cheetos intended to target their existing (younger) audience, there were almost certainly better celebrity couples they could have chosen. So this ad appears to be targeting somewhat older users who would be familiar with both the classic song and the stars of "That 70's Show". (Read: me.)

The good news is that the humour in the ad isn't at all predicated on knowing the actors; it's just a funny ad if you like that sort of thing. So using actors who would be more familiar to an older audience isn't likely to alienate the younger people who are buying Cheetos today.

Why create this ad? I don't know for certain, but I'm willing to bet Cheetos has some research that says young people who currently buy Cheetos are buying all the Cheetos they're likely to buy... which means the brand can only increase sales by finding an additional audience, introducing some innovation to their existing portfolio, or both.

I'll also bet that same research suggests people like me who used to buy Cheetos but don't anymore (i.e. "lapsed users", in marketing-speak) might be willing to consider coming back to the brand... if they were given the right nostalgic push.

As for the final question, while this was very clearly a "Cheetos" ad, I had absolutely no idea what Cheetos product was being advertised, and would strongly argue the celebrity component absolutely overpowered the product message.

Here's why: the humour in each scene was the primary focus, not the new bag of Cheetos. In fact, in the first 57 seconds of the 60-second ad, the new bag can only be fully visible for four non-consecutive seconds, mostly because a big part of the joke is that Kunis is constantly trying to hide the bag from Kutcher, and the bag is usually obscured as a result.

The final three seconds of the ad do show the new bag clearly, and the voiceover does clearly state, "New Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix"... but by that point, I've spent 57 seconds watching the ad, and I know absolutely nothing about the new product and how it's any different from the old product!

Why bother trying to introduce a NEW product with this ad, rather than focus on the "cheesy powder" equity of the brand that's so clearly on display throughout?

My guess would be a brand manager who needed another way to justify the enormous Super Bowl spend: the estimated cost of a 30-second spot in this year's big game is $5.6 million USD. (Of note: this version of the ad is 60 seconds long, although it's possible a cut-down version will be shown on Super Bowl Sunday.) Keep in mind that this is just the cost to RUN the ad... not the cost to pay multiple agencies to bring it to life, or license the music, or get the three celebrity figures to star in it. You can almost forgive that brand manager for using the "NEW" product to get approval, right? Almost.

This ad made me laugh a few times, even though Kutcher's off-pitch singing hurt my ears and the neat-freak in me was stressed out about all the cheesy dust on the walls.

But I'm 43 years old... and while I certainly used to eat Cheetos occasionally, I haven't purchased a bag in years. That would put me squarely in the "lapsed" target audience that this ad appears to be targeting... but this admittedly entertaining commercial isn't going to change my behaviour and cause me to buy a bag of Cheetos the next time I'm placing my grocery order.

The primary purpose of advertising isn't to entertain you, it's to change your mind and change your behaviour in order to drive sales.

"Entertaining" isn't always going to mean "effective".

- dp


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