But the product just sat on the shelf. "The sales force thought it was a dog," recalls Ms. Johnson, 37. "It was the dark days of Baked Lay's."
Then, in January 1996, a campaign from BBDO Worldwide, New York, started running, showing supermodels including Cindy Crawford greedily gobbling Baked Lay's.
"Once the advertising and the sampling kicked in, there was a frenzy" for the product, she says. "Demand was outstripping supply."
Indeed, Frito is just now getting the shortage under control.
Baked Lay's, a $35 million product in less than two months, is today considered one of Frito's biggest new-product successes ever.
Ms. Johnson says the product is aimed at capitalizing on better-for-you foods, a $30 billion market across all supermarket categories. Specifically, the goal was to attract women who had abandoned salty snacks because of diet concerns, without alienating men, she says.
The answer was an ad strategy that appealed to both sexes. Men were attracted by the supermodels and the high-profile media buy on the National Football League's playoffs and Super Bowl; women liked the "eat like a guy, look like one of the girls," message they saw on network shows such as "Seinfeld" and "ER," she says.
The result was a product that managed to boost the entire potato-chip category, she says.
Moreover, it gave a career boost to Ms. Johnson, a 7-year PepsiCo veteran who's now senior product manager-kids' marketing. She gave birth to twins during the Baked Lay's launch, but says even though that was like having three kids, the introduction was well worth it: "It was my chance to write just a little bit of advertising history."