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Frito-Lay: 'Omniculturals' at the intersection of IT and marketing

Ram Krishnan has a big job in IT. He is the chief marketing officer (CMO) at Frito-Lay North America, a $14 billion division of PepsiCo. In addition to Fritos corn chips and Lay’s “Betcha can’t eat just one” potato chips, the company’s products include Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Ruffles and my childhood favorite, Cracker Jack — in other words a pantheon of junk food whose brilliant branding would appear to have little to do with IT.

Not so, not any more, as Krishnan made abundantly clear in his keynote talk on the intersection of marketing and technology at last week’s FutureM conference in Boston. (The “M” stands for marketing.) At Frito-Lay, where the marketing team is replete with marketing technologists, data and technology are central to a brand’s success, Krishnan said.

Krishnan, named one of the “30 Most Creative People in Social Media Marketing” by Business Insider, is the driving force behind Frito-Lay’s “Do us a Flavor” promotion. The online campaign is waged largely on Facebook where millions of users have submitted, shared, voted on and Tweeted about new #DoUsAFlavor combinations for Lay’s potato chips. (The 2015 U.S. finalists are: Greektown Gyro, New York Reuben, Southern Biscuits & Gravy and West Coast Truffle Fries. The winner can opt for $1 million in prize money or a cut of the sales.)

Krishnan also oversees “Crash the Super Bowl,” an online competition now in its 10th year. Frito-Lay asks customers to create their own Doritos commercial for the big event, guaranteeing that at least one ad will be aired during the Super Bowl. (This was last year’s bro-centric winner.) Digital, interactive campaigns of all sorts connect Frito-Lay products with holidays, cult TV shows and social movements. At the FutureM conference, Krishnan let the audience in on how Frito-Lay is digitally deploying Chester Cheetah, the (slightly creepy) official mascot of Cheetos, to get a piece of Halloween.

The omniculturals

The word that came to mind when I read the flavor descriptions from the 2015 #DoUsAFlavor campaign and watched the off-color winning Super Bowl ad was yuck, but people like me don’t matter. My adult children do. The campaigns are aimed mainly at the two youngest of today’s five generations of consumers — the technology pioneers or Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, and the digital natives or Gen Z-ers, born between 1997 and 2015.

Millennials and Gen Z-ers are not the same, Krishnan explained, but they are united by technology. “Technology has been omnipresent throughout their lives and is a universal language for these two cohorts,” he said. Indeed, when marketing Lay’s potato chips, sold in 76 countries, “it is striking how alike these cohorts are across the globe.”

“We call these consumers omnicultural. Geography does not define who they are. The demographic around the globe has much the same taste in music, in style, video games,” he said.

Of the many attributes shared by the omnicultural cohort are three that are of  particular to interest to CMOs — and should also be of interest to CIOs. They are:

1.  BYOS, or bring your own screen:  The average American has access to four screens, according to Krishnan, and 87% use multiple screens at the same time. When Krishnan’s family gathers in front of the TV — a popular image in advertising since the dawn of television — he’s  on his laptop, his wife is on her iPad, his daughter is on her phone and his son is playing a video game. Marketing campaigns today must not only have “sharability” but be designed to be consumed on multiple screens.

2.  ROI, or return on image:  Millennials and Gen Z-ers care about digital presence, in ways previous generations (with the exception of movie stars and public figures) do not. They curate their digital presence with more care than they curate their living spaces. According to Krishnan “52% of [Millennials and Gen Z-ers] said  that when they get ready in the morning, one of the things they are thinking through is how what they are wearing will look on a social media post.”

 3.  Any reason to #celebrate: Both Millennials and Gen Z-ers have a “self-inflicted pressure to live interesting lives,” Krishnan said.  One of the ways they track and promote interesting lives is on social media. “They use hashtags as a way to connect with peers, as a way to actually navigate this world and to make the days of the week more interesting,” he said.

CIOs, CMOs live in scary times

Finally, conventional marketing doesn’t engage this demographic. “These two cohorts don’t want to be marketed to but they are willing to have a conversation with the brands — and create content,” Krishnan said. In fact, traditional marketing is dead to them.

“This is one of the scariest times to be a marketer. The industry and landscape is changing. I would submit to you that no other function is changing as dramatically as marketing, outside of IT,” he said.

Email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or find her on Twitter @ltucci.

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