How Frito-Lay's in-house agency is producing even more content during COVID
Frito-Lay's in-house creative team produced 622 pieces of content in 2019, everything from social posts to TV spots. And though the coronavirus pandemic may have altered some of its 2020 plans, it has not slowed down the Plano, Texas-based team.
“This year we’re actually looking to break 1,000,” says Chris Bellinger, VP of creative and digital, Frito-Lay North America.
Bellinger, who joined Frito-Lay in 2018, discusses his move from the agency side of the business to working in-house on the latest episode of Ad Age’s “Marketer’s Brief” podcast.
This year some things have changed, such as working from home rather than the headquarters where Frito-Lay built a high-tech studio. The in-house team has become “at-home content creators” who also get to go on location when needed, with new protocols in place.
Bellinger’s earlier time on the agency side included work on campaigns such as Doritos' "Crash the Super Bowl" at The Marketing Arm, as well as working on that Frito-Lay chip brand’s foray into gaming. “We actually had to convince everybody that gaming was a big thing, and that 19-year-olds enjoyed playing video games and eating Doritos,” says Bellinger. “At the time it was a brand new space.”
And there was a scary moment in a cage with a shark, also on a Doritos project. The push was about what is the definition of bold. A team, donned in shark costumes, asked people at a bar in Dallas if they’d want to go swimming with a shark. Someone who said yes was flown the next day to the Bahamas, where the shoot took place, with people in a cage in the water as sharks swam nearby. Bellinger himself went into the tank wearing a shark costume—and soon an actual shark swam in. As he puts it, he was “getting somewhat almost bit by a shark during a consumer content creation.”
To some, that would have been a sign to call it quits. Not Bellinger. “That kind of fueled my love of creating content and making things and taking risks and just having some fun with it,” says Bellinger, who at 38 was recently named one of Ad Age’s 2020 40 Under 40 honorees.
After leaving The Marketing Arm to start his own agency, Bellinger soon found himself chatting with Jennifer Saenz, when she was Frito-Lay North America’s chief marketing officer, about the idea of going to the PepsiCo unit’s in-house agency. “Honestly, I wish I had done it sooner,” says Bellinger, who at first turned down the idea of taking the gig.
The in-house work and campaigns done elsewhere are showing signs of success. Frito-Lay North America's sales rose 7% in the first nine months of 2020, as plenty of people are snacking more while at home during the pandemic. The growth is coming from several of its big brands. In the third quarter, results included double-digit growth for Tostitos, high-single digit growth for Cheetos, and mid-single digit growth for Doritos and Ruffles.
Frito-Lay North America, where Rachel Ferdinando is now CMO, continues to work with outside agencies. Goodby Silverstein & Partners handled the Super Bowl ads for Cheetos and Doritos, for example.
“I love working with the external agencies,” says Bellinger. “We all have our role to play within the system.”
Still, he’s largely focused on the work his team is doing. One of Bellinger’s favorite in-house campaigns is the “My Favorite Things” video starring Anna Kendrick that came out last year for the holiday season. “That was an idea that had no chance of survival,” says Bellinger. It will be back this year with a little bit of a twist, he says, and the team is already starting to work on plans for a holiday 2021 campaign.
A newer favorite is the “‘Twas the Night Before Kickoff” spot narrated by Marshawn Lynch, which was shot in Dallas, Oakland and Tampa. Coronavirus protocols included having people wear color-coded wristbands giving them access to certain areas, in some cases zones marked on the floor with matching tape.
So, did Tom Brady—who has had a pretty strict eating regimen—actually eat any chips on the set?
“I have absolutely no comment regarding that,” said Bellinger. “But Tom was amazing to work with.”