How Doritos Turned WWE’s ‘SummerSlam’ into an Example of Effective ‘Aspirational Marketing’

By tapping a bold fan, Doritos turned its sponsorship of WWE’s “SummerSlam” into an innovative way to connect with a key male demo

Mark Henry bodyslams a WWE fan at SummerSlam's Axxess

Experiential marketing may be the latest buzz word among advertisers, but Doritos is taking the promotional concept a step further and embracing a more aspirational approach to sell chips.

The Pepsico-owned snack brand has spent the last several months paired up with WWE as the main sponsor of “SummerSlam,” which took place Aug. 18, inside Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Event is WWE’s second most popular pay-per-view behind “WrestleMania” each year.

What made Doritos’ tie-in unique was that it revolved around finding a WWE fan bold enough to drop everything and fly to L.A. in order to take a splash from 412-pound wrestler Mark Henry in return for ringside seats to “SummerSlam.” The splash is when a wrestler leaps into the air and lands his body on his opponent. It looks especially painful when done by someone of Henry’s size.

At a time when marketers are looking for innovative ways — make that desperate to identify stunts — to stand out among their core consumer, Doritos’ tag team with a WWE fan is notable for several reasons:

■ The splash was conducted in a ring set up in the courtyard of the L.A. Live entertainment complex, across the street from Staples Center, with fans attending “SummerSlam” Axxess on hand to watch — and post the experience on ther Twitter, Facebook or other social media accounts.

■ Doritos was able to turn its “Now or Never” fan experience into original content it is showcasing on its website and social media platforms.

■ And because it involved Henry, know to WWE fans as “the world’s strongest man,” the company was also able to use the fan experience as programming it also is posting on its various online platforms. It gave the winner a shoutout through a video of his experience at Axxess played during the PPV.

With Brandon Hendrix as the fan, it landed a charismatic former castmember at Walt Disney World that currently works as a server at a restaurant inside a Doubletree Hotel in Portland.

Before he took the splash, Hendrix was concerned. “There’s nowhere for that belly to go,” he said of Henry’s size. “All I saw was a huge figure coming at me” during the splash, “and then I felt myself bounce on the mat,” he said afterward.

Henry also was a little worried, initially asking WWE “why they would want me to hurt a fan?” “I ended up giving 5% to 10%,” he said afterward. “He was really scared, but he gets a lot of respect from me for doing that.” It could have been worse for Hendrix, considering Henry also has a body slam known as “the world’s strongest slam.”

The stunt worked because Hendrix could have been any WWE or Doritos fan and his well-documented experience over several days at “SummerSlam” will be worth more to those companies than any traditional sweepstakes giving an entrant the ability to attend a studio’s film premiere, for example.

At the same time, WWE offered up access to all of its wrestlers to Hendrix to meet, with even company chairman Vince McMahon involved in brainstorming sessions.

“That makes me feel good as a sponsor that the company is as active as it is,” said Jared Drinkwater, senior director of marketing at Frito-Lay.

As YouTube has been embraced by the “Me” generation — obsessed with putting themselves in front of a digital camera at all times — promos like the one with Doritos and WWE effectively cater to that demo and provide a close-up look at what a stranger’s win looks like. Online, viewers are the new stars, not celebrities on TV or on the big screen. As a result, the Doritos Jacked experience is sure to create the kind of goodwill between a brand and consumer that’s hard to buy. If it creates a tinge of jealousy, even better.

Overall, the promo was meant to put a spotlight on Doritos’ Jacked line of chips that are 40% bigger and thicker than its traditional line of chips and feature bolder flavors like ranch dipped hot wings, spicy chipotle bbq, and enchilada supreme. Company likes to call the spinoff “an over-the-top eating experience for Doritos lovers.”

With that in mind, Doritos wanted to come up with an equally bold experience as a way to stand out as part of its “SummerSlam” sponsorship.

The solution: “A way to give a WWE fan a now or never kind of experience,” according to Drinkwater.

To pull it off, WWE set up a last-minute house show in Portland, Oregon, where Doritos could choose a fan bold enough to take the splash from Henry. One caveat was that Hendrix needed to drop everything and head to the airport that instant to fly to Los Angeles, without a chance to pack. He was able to bring two additional friends, including his girlfriend.

SEE ALSO: Smart Promo: Doritos Gets into WWE’s ‘SummerSlam’ Ring

Doritos has long sought out unusual ways to use consumers as part of its marketing efforts.

It’s produced the “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign over the past seven years, which has generated considerable attention around the Big Game through its 30-second ads produced by Doritos fans, not an ad agency.

“We’ve always been about giving our consumers a voice and a stage to be bold,” Drinkwater said.

The WWE promo is the biggest experiential marketing effort Doritos has produced. Most experiential campaigns often take the form of a live event like a concert — events that attract masses of people where it expose their brand and products.

“We’ve dabbled in it in recent years and our experience at SXSW in 2012 opened our eyes of how powerful it can be to be down on the ground and impact relationships directly with your consumer instead of just relying on things they can see online and on TV,” Drinkwater said. “It’s a really powerful tool.”

“Everything we’ve done from a marketing perspective has been over the top,” Drinkwater said, with the brand launching its first experiential effort around Doritos Jacked at the South by Southwest festival in 2012, in the form of a 62-foot vending machine that doubled as a concert stage. The machine returned to this year’s SXSW event. Doritos claims the stunt generated billions of impressions through PR and social media chatter.

Doritos chose to team up with WWE because it considered the company another over-the-top brand that produces “stop-and-take-notice entertainment.” “We wanted to partner with someone that really lives and breathes the Jacked experience,” Drinkwater said. “They have the most rabid and passionate fans.”

Many of those fans, like Hendrix, are 18-24, Doritos’ core customer — a very narrow demo that’s proven hard to reach for many advertisers.

The opportunity to utilize someone like Henry also was appealing.

“Not a lot of regular 20-somethings can get in the ring with the world’s strongest man,” referring to Henry’s powerlifting records, Drinkwater said.

Doritos is the latest brand to consider partnering with WWE since it’s switched to a more family friendly PG format.

“It’s given corporate America permission to talk to us,” said Michael Pine, global head of sales and partnerships, WWE, who recently joined the company from the UFC. “I can’t stress how important that move has meant to us.”

“We’ve always been experiential,” said Michelle Wilson, chief marketing officer of WWE. “That’s the business we’re in, creating experiences and content for our fans. Other brands are starting to realize that and turning to us to elevate their brand.”

In addition to following Hendrix, Doritos also had a booth set up at Axxess where it handed out bags of Doritos Jacked to fans who paid $20 for tickets to get autographs from WWE’s wrestlers and watch matches with NXT talent. Doritos was also integrated into WWE’s weekly TV shows and its mobile app through which fans could ask WWE talent bold questions.

“A majority of our focus (was) to provide an epic experience for this one consumer and create a strong piece of content and get it out to the world,” Drinkwater said.

Now that “SummerSlam” is over, Doritos will consider whether to pair up with the event again next year.

“For us, we don’t tend to get excited about traditional sponsorships,” Drinkwater said. “That’s what attracted us to WWE,” adding that it saw the fan event enabled it to produce something that was participatory and leveraged all kinds of digital media with content “people actually want to watch rather than traditional advertising.”