Lay's Taps Mobile App Yo to Promote 'Do Us a Flavor'

Start-Up App Gets Chance to Work With a Big Brand

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As it seeks to build buzz for its next "Do Us A Flavor" contest, Lay's has struck partnerships with Google, Food Network and SundanceTV. But in addition to those well-known entities, the PepsiCo-owned brand has also tapped an unlikely, and lesser-known, partner: start-up mobile messaging app Yo.

Yo launched last year, primarily allowing users to send their contacts one message: "Yo." Plenty of media companies have signed on since -- including MTV and USA Today -- and typically use the service to push out news and content. But Yo has failed to break through in a major way with consumer product brands, and one recent partnership with Motorola did not go so well (see below).

But Lay's is willing to give Yo a try. "We're always looking for new and different ways to engage with fans around the 'Do Us A Flavor' contest. We're excited to see how fans respond to our presence on the Yo app," Tina Mahal, senior director-marketing at Lay's, said in a statement.

The contest, which is in its third year in the U.S., calls for consumers to submit potato chip flavor ideas. Four finalist flavors will be sold in stores, and consumers will vote on the winner by the end of the year.

Lay's will use Yo to push out existing digital content, like "Taste Spuds" videos (above), as well as Instagram posts from "various influencers," according to the brand. Lay's will also distribute content from its "Flavorcast Heat Map," which was created in collaboration with Google and shows popular ingredients and flavors in each state.

For Lay's, the Yo deal is relatively risk-free. That is because the brand did not pay Yo for the service, a Lay's spokeswoman confirmed. But the stakes are somewhat higher for Yo as it seeks to establish a foothold with major brands.

"We've done a lot to prove this isn't a joke of an app," Ryan Morris, Yo's head of business development, said, adding that "we are here to stay." He said that "push notifications are very often done poorly by brands with their own app. And so we've created one central platform for brands to creatively and efficiently engage their users and customers with push notifications."

Of course, if Yo wants to build momentum with brands, the app will need to ensure the program runs more smoothly than the Motorola promotion. The marketer in August turned to Yo for the maiden promotion of its smartwatch, the Moto360, shipping the device to select consumers who sent a missive to the company over the app. But it did not go smoothly, as complaints came that the giveaway was misleading. Motorola claimed the language was unclear and that it jumbled communication with the young app company.

Said Mr. Morris: "We provide the platform and brands utilize it the way that they want to. With the Motorola launch … there were a few glitches within how the link was sent." He added: "We are not content creators. We are a platform provider for content."

Lay's is also "exploring paid content partnerships with other up-and-coming social platforms to drive submissions and engagement with the contest," according to a spokeswoman. The brand has already touted the contest on Food Network via a sponsorship of the series "Best Ever." Also, Lay's filmed two vignettes during last month's Sundance Film Festival that will be shown on SundanceTV later this month.

Last year's contest drew 14 million flavor submissions. The winner was Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, which was entered by Meneko Spinger McBeth, a nurse living in New Jersey.

Contributing: Mark Bergen

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