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PepsiCo’s Super Bowl Commercial for Doritos, Mountain Dew is Two Ads in One

PepsiCo hopes it can squeeze two ads into one and triumph over dozens of other Super Bowl commercials vying for viewer attention.

The consumer-products giant behind Quaker Oats, Tropicana orange juice and Diet Pepsi, among other supermarket favorites, is testing a tricky stratagem. In an event that typically demands strong, simple ad messages for the biggest (and often most inebriated) TV audience of the year, PepsiCo will advertise two different products within the confines of a single 60-second commercial: a new spicy iteration of Doritos and a new lemon-lime variant of Mountain Dew.

“You do run the risk of one brand overshadowing the other, and not getting that new product message out,” acknowledges Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo’s North America Beverages division, in an interview. NBC will broadcast Super Bowl LI from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on February 4.

In this case, PepsiCo executives believe they have the right formula to offset the danger. “If you look at the purchase habits of consumers, Doritos and Dew are purchased together in more of the same baskets than peanut butter and jelly,” says Jennifer Saenz, chief marketing office for Frito-Lay North America, in an interview, citing company research.  Since both products are typically bought by millennial and so-called “Generation Z” consumers, one ad that airs in the Super Bowl (and, presumably, many times thereafter), could do the trick. The company has been working on the idea , she says, since last Spring.

Depending on the rest of the Super Bowl ad line-up, this particular PepsiCo ad could stand apart from the pack. In the commercial, Morgan Freeman represents Mountain Dew Ice, the new soda, while Peter Dinklage will stand for Doritos Blaze, the new Doritos flavor (“It’s like licking a volcano,” notes a line on the chip’s packaging).

“It’s definitely very difficult to pull off an ad like this,” says Kelly O’Keefe, a professor of brand management at Virginia Commonweath Univeristy. “Advertisers have tried over the years, but it’s generally more confusion than its worth.”

The commercial marks a return to the Big Game for both products after a short absence. Mountain Dew last appeared in Super Bowl 50, in 2016, with a commercial featuring a creature known as a “puppymonkeybaby.” Doritos sat the 2017 Super Bowl out after a decade of encouraging viewers to make their own Super Bowl ads in a popular contest known as “Crash the Super Bowl.”

PepsiCo said in a recent press release that the new commercial “marks the first time one company has advertised two of its trademarks back-to-back in one nationally televised Super Bowl commercial,” but the simple fact is another marketer has tried the same technique. In 2010, Diamond Foods used a 30-second Super Bowl ad to call attention to both its Emerald Nuts, a veteran of several Super Bowl ad rosters, and Pop Secret popcorn, a rookie at the time. Interestingly, the ad agency that helped craft that ad, Omnicom Group’s Goodby Silverstein & Partners, is the same agency working on the Doritos and Mountain Dew effort. The older ad is not one that comes immediately to mind when people discuss Super Bowl commercials.

Others, however, have found great success talking about two. The candy company Peter Paul Co. struck a chord in a 1970s-era campaign that burnished the slogan “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t” (Almond Joy, according to the commercial, had nuts. Mounds did not).

PepsiCo will bolster its Doritos-Mountain Dew square-off with other kinds of marketing, the executives said, including a robust effort at retail outlets, along with sampling. The company will also host activities related to its products in Minneapolis. And it will  run a 30-second ad for Pepsi that will feature nods to that product’s history – such as Michael Jackson and Britney Spears – and continue to sponsor the event’s halftime show.

PepsiCo may have a better shot than most at making the unorthodox technique work, said O’Keefe, the advertising professor. Doritos and Mountain Dew have compatible consumer targets and “a similar outrageous tonality that works,” he adds. “It’s still a gamble, but I think they have put a lot of factors in alignment.”

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