Cheetos Ads That Promote 'Random Acts' Are Irresponsible

What Should We Think When a Top Advertiser Borrows a Marketing Strategy From the Drug Trade?

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Remember the acronym "RAoC." It will be useful when the lawsuits start coming in.

That should begin presently, if the "Orange Underground" campaign for Cheetos from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, works at all. RAoC stands for "Random Acts of Cheetos," and the idea is to recruit users to perpetrate Cheetos-centric pranks against those who deserve comeuppance -- like tossing a handful in somebody's dryer load of whites at the Laundromat. Ha ha!

As the (unbelievably amateurish) 20-something presenter says, pointing to an outsize Cheeto in a glass case, "The third rule of RAoC is to stick it to The Man, preferably with one of these."

Get it? Alienated teenagers and young men chafe against authority. So frustrated and resentful are they about their humiliating powerlessness, they tend to lash out -- or at least fantasize about lashing out -- at the powers that be.

That would be mainly parents, teachers, principals and bosses, but anyone and anything will do -- which explains the tens of thousands of mailboxes destroyed each year by baseball bats, with a trail of Mike's Hard Lemonade bottles littered along the curb.

The perpetrators don't necessarily harbor animus toward the U.S. Postal Service.

They just harbor animus in general.

Adolescent angst. This is powerful psychology and therefore fertile ground for someone wishing to cultivate that demographic. Ask any tattoo artist or death-metal performer or drug dealer or anyone else in the rebellion industry.

But here's a question: What should we think when a leading national advertiser borrows a marketing strategy from the drug trade?

Here's an answer: It's cynical and disgusting. Not quite as disgusting as the 1994 Nintendo campaign that encouraged teenagers to defy adults and "Hock a loogie at life," but plenty disgraceful in its own right, because there is another word for Random Acts of Cheetos: vandalism. The Cheetos Underground explicitly incites its shadowy network of crap eaters not only to perpetrate mischief but to document their petty crimes on video for the Cheetos website.

One (admittedly (perversely) funny) example, in a video spot titled "Mr. Clean," is about a Cheetos-scarfing office messenger distributing reports from cubicle to cubicle and encountering the work space of a neat-freak colleague. Everything in the cube is arranged at absolute right angles, including the surgical tools he uses to manicure his Bonsai maple. So, egged on by Chester -- Cheetos's devil-on-the-shoulder mascot -- our antihero uses his snack food to defile the cube. He smashes a Cheetos inside the guy's laptop. He coats the guy's iPod ear buds with orange powder and so on.

Later, when the (vaguely effeminate, hmmm) victim encounters the crime scene while talking on his cellphone, he stops cold and says, in his wound-too-tight, anal-retentive way, "There's been an incident. I have to go."

Another spot is about an obnoxious, pretentious yuppie showing off some expensive, abstract inkblot of a painting to his friend. When he leaves the room, the friend smears Cheetos dust all over it.

Can you see how this is all destined to lead to litigation? Or worse? Can you see how ethically bankrupt it is -- Frito-Lay in the role of Ken Lay?

But it's not just that this campaign is mean-spirited and reckless and generally contemptible. It also ultimately makes no sense. Where does a multibillion-dollar division of PepsiCo come off dissing The Man? Dude, PepsiCo is The Man.

You like crunchy snacks and want to join a real Orange Underground? Sweet. Boycott Cheetos and eat carrots.

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