Lay's Aims to Improve Its Chips' Image

Campaign Fights Claims That Product Is Overprocessed, Emphasizes Freshness

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- This news just in: Lay's potato chips are made from potatoes.

The first TV spot begins on a farm, where family and friends carrying coolers are gathering for what appears to be a barbecue. As everyone assembles, potatoes shoot out of the ground in a mock fireworks display.
The first TV spot begins on a farm, where family and friends carrying coolers are gathering for what appears to be a barbecue. As everyone assembles, potatoes shoot out of the ground in a mock fireworks display.
To combat the perception of the snack as overprocessed, the ubiquitous chip is mounting a multimillion-dollar campaign from agency Juniper Park, Toronto, that underscores the fact that the product is made from just three ingredients: potatoes, sunflower oil and salt. The tagline: "Happiness is simple."

Gannon Jones, VP-marketing, Frito-Lay North America, said that while he isn't trying to elevate the iconic brand to a health-and-wellness platform, he is trying to give a "kiss of permission" to eat Lay's potato chips at a time when consumers have become increasingly concerned about their calorie and fat intake. This campaign also dials down the brand's more indulgent messaging of old, such as "Bet you can't eat just one."

"We're not trying to suggest that this is a hard-core health product at all," Mr. Jones said. "The line we're trying to walk with this campaign is to remind [consumers] about everything they love about the brand while addressing some of the misperceptions." The misperceptions, of course, being that Lay's are overprocessed and unhealthy.

Spending increase
The new campaign, which includes print, online and national TV, breaks Jan. 18 and will result in a double-digit spending increase for Lay's this year. Mr. Jones declined to quantify the budget or indicate whether other Lay's brands would take a hit as a result of the Lay's increase. But Frito has been boosting Lay's spending in recent years. After all, the brand is a $2 billion business for the company. According to TNS Media Intelligence, PepsiCo spent $32 million on Lay's measured media during the first nine months of 2008, which was roughly equivalent to its full-year 2007 spending.

TV spots will start with a two-week broadcast network splash, followed by national cable buys on networks such as TLC and ABC Family. The print buy includes publications such as Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living and Every Day with Rachael Ray. Those ads describe Lay's as "just potatoes, all natural oil and a dash of salt."

The first TV spot begins on a farm, where family and friends carrying coolers are gathering for what appears to be a barbecue. As everyone assembles, potatoes shoot out of the ground in a mock fireworks display.

Tostito's ads currently on air describe the corn chips as "100% white corn, all-natural oil and a dash of salt."

Reminiscent of McDonald's
The concept is reminiscent of McDonald's quality initiative, which became the centerpiece of the chain's messaging last year. Print and outdoor work have highlighted that McDonald's french fries are made from potatoes and that the hamburgers are made from "100% beef."

Mr. Jones said that Lay's could have easily undertaken a campaign that attacks competitors on salt content, trying to position its product as healthier. But these tactics are counterproductive, he said. Instead, it's more important to remind consumers of the brand's heritage.

And it's clearly a direction that could incite critics like Michele Simon, an author and public-health attorney who described the new campaign as disingenuous. "Let's be honest: It's processed junk food," she said. "It's just companies scrambling to save themselves as they see the trend happening as people are waking up and getting a clue that maybe packaged food isn't good for you."

Freshness message
As the campaign rolls out nationally, in-store iterations will also appeal to growing consumer interest in locally sourced foods. Mr. Jones said that while potatoes are grown in several U.S. regions, Lay's has 21 manufacturing plants around the country so as to ensure freshness on delivery. "Potato chips don't travel well," he said. That necessity could create opportunities in many markets, he said, where the chips may have been produced nearby.

Ms. Simon balked at this concept as well. "They have factories all over the country so they're locally processed? Give me a break," she said. "That's hilarious. You might as well say 'I rolled this cigarette in my backyard so it's local.'"

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