More than a crunch: How a 1.5 second tune changed the Tostitos brand

    NEW YORK — With consumers increasingly taking to audio content like podcasts, Tostitos developed a sonic brand in an attempt to cut through the noise. In the year since debuting the concept, the Frito-Lay label has seen dramatic success and now plans to expand the play on platforms like TikTok, according to details shared by the company on an Advertising Week panel on Wednesday. 

    The strategy formed around an easing in pandemic restrictions that caused Tostitos’ target audience — the at-home gatherers and late-night snackers — to return to dining out. At the same time, the brand found evidence that consumers go for their dip first and the “carrier,” or chip, second, said Hana Golden, marketing director of the Tostitos trademark for PepsiCo Foods North America, on the panel.

    Time spent streaming audio is up 32% year-over-year, per information cited during the discussion. Meanwhile, 67 million U.S. consumers listen to podcasts each month. Ads with sonic branding elements see an uplift in attention by 8.5 times those that don’t, according to panelists. But above all else, audio has the potential to drive brand recognition due to its ability to follow consumers regardless of where they are.

    “Now that we’ve come out of some of the pandemic, it’s even more crucial that we’re putting that sound out there and cueing people to get together,” Golden said. 

    Finding the groove

    Creating a memorable tone meant unraveling the emotion behind the brand, according to Amy Crawford, senior vice president and head of creative, music and culture at Made Music Studio, the sonic branding agency that partnered with Tostitos on the effort. 

    “For Tostitos, it’s the idea that we’re more than a crunch,” Crawford said during the panel.

    Questions the studio asked the brand revolved around its story, intentions and the listening habits of its target audience. And despite a decade-plus working with PepsiCo, including nearly two years with Tostitos, Golden said the sonic branding experience is what truly got the two acquainted. 

    “I can’t wait to do it again on Cheetos,” Golden said. “It was one of the most unique experiences for a brand marketer to where you’re intimately getting to know a brand that you obviously strive to know before that.” 

    The end product needed to be more than a crunching noise, the team said, as that would be a difficult asset to own in the snacking category. To illustrate the point, the panel noted that there are about 12 to 15 brands that use the simple sound of a ringing doorbell as their sonic branding, leading to a lack of differentiation.

    “We often say that you can’t cut through the clutter when you are the clutter,” said John Taite, executive vice president of global brand partnerships and development at Made Music Studio, who moderated the discussion.

    To be more authentic, Tostitos’ sound entailed opening a lot of the brand’s jarred queso, guacamole and salsa to capture the perfect “pop,” Crawford said of the final product. It created entirely by using Tostitos products and can be heard in a recent ad spot with actor Dan Levy.

    The final tune runs a short 1.5 seconds, designed to allow as much content as possible to precede it in advertisements while still relating back to the brand with key tip-offs like the popping open of its own jars and biting into a chip.

    “We were really thinking about how to get to the inevitable sound for the brand,” Crawford said. “This could only be for Tostitos and that’s a key question that we asked ourselves throughout this really fun process … When you come to the end result, could this be any other brand? If the answer’s maybe, we haven’t done our job.”

    Measured success

    Before deploying the sonic brand at scale, audio intelligence firm Veritonic and Tostitos put the product in-market to road test it and set predictions for how it would perform. It met their expectations quickly, said Korri Kolesa, chief revenue officer of Veritonic. Research conducted six months post-release found significant increases in consumer sentiment. Most importantly, there was a 38% increase in brand recall stemming from the audio addition, Kolesa said.

    “That figure is just for the sonic identity, just that second and a half,” she said. “That’s not with a tagline, that’s not with a corresponding visual logo. That tells you how impactful audio is.” 


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