Cheetos' Chester Suits Up for Snack-Fueled Mayhem

By Elaine Wong, Brandweek

Chester the Cheetah is finally getting his big break in the Super Bowl. Frito-Lay, the snack division of PepsiCo, has purchased its first 30-second spot for Cheetos during NBC’s telecast of the game, and the brand’s animated mascot is the star.

Frito-Lay is hoping the commercial, which breaks during the first half of Super Bowl XLIII, will give snackers the munchies. The strategy is part of the client’s larger mission of reaching adult consumers via Cheetos, a repositioning that began last year. Although traditionally viewed as a kids snack, the cheesy curls also have a large adult following, with more than 60 percent of Cheetos fans over the age of 18, the company said.

Sunday’s spot, via Omnicom Group’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, continues the brand’s mildly subversive commercial themes. It shows a loud, chatty woman talking on her cell phone outside a restaurant (“I must be on the ugly side of town. Everyone here is, like, really gross.”). A female customer sitting behind her gets annoyed, and — egged on by Chester — scatters Cheetos on the floor. A flock of pigeons swoops down, gobbling the crumbs and attacking the rude talker. “Give Daddy a kiss,” Chester says coolly to a pigeon that hops onto his shoulder, and the bird pecks him on the nose. Consumers are urged to “Let loose at” as eerie music plays.

The brand has increased its ad spending of late, with a U.S. traditional media outlay of $13 million in the first 11 months of last year compared to $8 million for all of 2007. Thirty seconds of the time on the Super Bowl costs $3 million.

The Super Bowl buy is a move that makes sense for the brand, per industry experts. For example, data from the NPD Group shows that chip consumption increases by 46 percent on Super Bowl Sunday compared to other Sundays during the year.

Besides, there’s no better time to start or extend a change in marketing strategy than during the game, said Robert Horowitz, Super Bowl historian and executive producer of Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials, which airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on CBS. “There is this perception that if you are doing it in the Super Bowl, you mean business,” he said.

Frito-Lay is not the only company to employ such a strategy. Coca-Cola is also looking to reposition its Coke Zero brand with a zero-calorie/big-taste message in an updated version of the iconic “Mean Joe Greene” commercial the beverage giant launched in 1980. Crispin Porter + Bogusky crafted the new spot.