Frito-Lay Puts Cheetos Brand in Bloggers' Hands

Federated Media Ad Buy Asks Users to Create Sponsored Content on Boing Boing, Other Channels

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Mass marketers have generally taken a wary stance toward blogs, but Frito-Lay isn't just embracing bloggers, it's letting them define their brand.

The snack-maker is sponsoring seven blogs in a sizable ad buy through Federated Media for its Cheetos brand, including the flagship tech/culture blog Boing Boing, several Next New Network channels, tech-news website Mashable, Makezine and Outblush.

But here's where it gets interesting: Cheetos is asking the bloggers themselves to create sponsored content integrating the brand, over which Cheetos and its ad agencies, Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and OMD, will have no creative control.

"We were prepared to show them the blog posts beforehand, but they didn't want to see them," said Next New Networks CEO Lance Podell, whose Barely Political, Fastlane Daily and IndyMogul were part of the buy. "Cheetos was insistent that it be the voice of the blog."

The six-week website takeover involves sponsored posts, branded "Cheetos Boredom Busters," where the blogger creates content on the theme of "beating boredom."

The brand for a break
"Cheetos approached Federated some time ago because they wanted to align their brand with the idea of taking a break," said FM marketing manager Matthew DiPietro. "We went to our authors and offered them this opportunity to create content that is specifically designed for their community. Cheetos is essentially sponsoring this content, but it's not necessarily related to Cheetos or the brand at all."

The sponsored posts include video or text created in the voice of the blogs and designed to appeal to their communities. Bloggers are transparent about the sponsorship. Some, like Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, told their readers the back story.

Jardin said Boing Boing staff took a stab at creating the videos themselves, but felt their concepts weren't "sufficiently awesome, subversive, 'Boingy' or weird," so she ended up contracting the work to Monochrom, an Austrian "art and theory" collective, led by Johannes Grenzfurthner, an artist Boing Boing blogged about.

The result was that Monochrom put Cheetos into what it calls the "Alternate Reality of Soviet Unterzoegersdorf," a fictitious country and part of a video game it is developing.

Federated wouldn't disclose the size of the buy, but given the general aversion to blogs by the package-goods industry, it has to be a step forward.

Don't be mean
The posts, both video and text, contain no call to visit Cheetos.com, though the banner ads link to the site. This contrasts with Cheetos' Super Bowl spot, which urged viewers to "let loose" at Cheetos.com, tripling traffic to the site. Also interesting to note, Cheetos asked Boing Boing to be nice, even while its TV campaigns have been seen as mean-spirited by some.

In her blog, Ms. Jardin summarized the editorial direction she got from Cheetos: "It was pretty much: Don't be mean (don't do anything involving Cheetos that would make someone cry, particularly with kittens), and avoid anything having to do with sex, violence and drugs."

Frito-Lay representatives were not available for an interview.

In a Collective Media survey of agency executives and advertisers last year, 39% said blogs are on their "do-not-buy" lists for digital campaigns, compared with 73% for user-generated video and 27% for social media.

Cheetos is pushing into online video in a significant way. The brand is underwriting Ashton Kutcher's web series on Facebook, "KatalystHQ," which will include ad spots created for it by Kutcher's Katalyst Films.

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