The Next Frontier in Customization: Lay's Potato Chip Bags

The Potato Chip Brand Is the Latest Marketer Turning to Custom Packaging

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Lay's Custom Bags
Lay's Custom Bags

If you run a massive food brand, how do you offer a personal touch? For the marketers at Lay's it means giving buyers the chance to design their own bags.

The potato chip brand is launching a program in which people can create custom bags by uploading a personal picture and phrase depicting their "favorite summer moment." Lay's will then use the digital design to create real bags and ship them directly to the consumer, set to arrive near the Fourth of July.

But Lay's fans will have to act fast. PepsiCo-owned Frito-Lay is capping the program at 10,000 bags. Still, that is a significant customization effort for a brand used to pumping out countless monolithic designs.

"The packaging and [research and development] teams have invested a lot of effort to figure out how do we do these small customized packaging runs within the complexity of the millions of bags we produce," said Frito-Lay North America CMO Ram Krishnan.

In a separate program, Lay's is creating special bags with designs made from ultraviolet ink that change when they are exposed to sunlight. "It is the first time I think anyone has ever done UV-activated packaging for the consumer," Mr. Krishnan said.

Lays Before Sun
Lays Before Sun
Lays After Sun
Lays After Sun

Custom and unique packaging programs have emerged as a critical tool for big consumer-packaged good brands that can no longer rely on traditional advertising to break through. Consider Coke, which brought back its "Share a Coke" program in the U.S. this summer after a successful run last year in which people scooped up bottles in search of their own or a friend's name on the label.

While Coke's effort randomly populates store shelves with packages using hundreds of popular first names, Lay's is putting the consumer in charge of creating their own unique bags.

Lay's execs are counting on social media to increase the program's reach well beyond the owners of the 10,000 custom bags. For instance, Lay's will send a digital image to the consumer as soon as the bag is designed, hoping the user will share it broadly. When the bag is delivered, chances are people will boast about them again on their social networks -- at least that is the goal.

"I would say we are going to reach millions and millions of people very easily," Mr. Krishnan said. "Consumers want this two-way conversation," he added.

Of course, there is some risk that people could hijack the program with inappropriate images. To reduce that risk, Lay's will review every entry. "It has to be appropriate. It has to live up to building the brand equity," Mr. Krishnan said. The rigor required is "why it's very difficult to do these things in scale all year long," he said.

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