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As more people shop online -- and avoid grocery stores -- how will big brands find ways to randomly hand out stuff for free?
A promotion that PepsiCo's Lay's brand is launching Friday in New York City in partnership with Uber could hold some clues about how marketers will adopt sampling to the digital age.
The initiative makes use of Uber's courier service, called UberRush, which launched earlier this year. On Friday and Saturday, consumers logging into the service will be prompted by Lay's to enter a special code. In return, Uber will deliver for free a picnic basket filled with potato chip flavors that are finalists in the brand's "Do Us a Flavor" contest. The basket will also include two sandwiches from Katz's Deli, fruit and two bottles of Aquafina water, which is owned by PepsiCo.
The program is one of several new ways that Lay's is trying to boost interest in the contest, which is in its second year in the U.S. and represents the biggest marketing program the brand will undertake this year. There is a lot at stake: PepsiCo's Frito-Lay North America reported 2% revenue growth in the second quarter, which some analysts viewed as a lackluster performance.
"Do Us a Flavor" kicked off in January when consumers were asked to submit flavor ideas. But the finalists flavors -- which include Cappuccino, Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Wasabi Ginger and Mango Salsa -- hit stores less than a month ago, so it is too early to tell if Frito-Lay is getting a sales bump. The contest will continue until Oct. 18 when consumers can vote on their favorite flavors at a special website, via Twitter, Instagram, or Vine using special hashtags, or via a text message.
In its first year, Lay's ran the program for a longer period, from July 2012 to May 2013. The marketer condensed the schedule this year in a move to keep people interested. Running it over two calendar years was "too much for people to remember and stay engaged in the program," said Ram Krishnan, senior-VP marketing for Frito-Lay North America. The early signs are good: The marketer collected 14.4 million flavor submissions this year, compared with 3.8 million last year, he said.
But the ultimate scorecard will be the number of sales the new chips generate. Sampling is a key part of the plan to raise awareness.
In traditional sampling, hired third-parties typically hand out products at or near supermarkets. But through the Uber program, Lay's is testing the notion that people might pay more attention to a brand if they actively summon it, rather than randomly encounter it at the store. Such strategies could become critical as more people buy goods online using channels such as Amazon.
"As more and more retail moves to e-commerce, [consumers] are not stepping into the stores ... They don't touch and feel these products," Mr. Krishnan said. "So this is a way of touching and feeling and trying our products, which they wouldn't have."
The Uber program will be capped at 200 total deliveries over the two days and will only be available in Manhattan between 14th Street and 96th Street.
Of course, most people still shop at the store, and Mr. Krishnan said that "there is still always going to be a role for traditional sampling in retail." But with digital programs like the Uber initiative, Frito-lay is hoping to hold the attention of consumers, who might be more distracted when shopping at the store. With apps like Uber, "it's the only thing you are doing, you've tuned everything else out," Mr. Krishnan said.
The initiative will be followed on Aug. 18 by another sampling stunt in which Lay's will deliver the chips via branded pedicabs to consumers in select cities who summons the chips using the @Lays Twitter handle. The brand will select select 20 winners in each city. Lay's is also using Amazon's "#amazoncart" program, in which people can add the chips to their online Amazon shopping carts via Twitter by using the hashtag.
Lay's is also supporting the program with a TV ad. The spot (below) is by Energy BBDO, Chicago. Deep Focus is the digital agency, while PR is handled by Ketchum, in-store marketing by The Marketing Arm and media buying by OMD.