Oct 19, 2011 at 07:18 PM
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Complaint To FTC Calls Doritos Marketing Tactics 'Deceptive and Unfair'

Four consumer watchdog groups today filed a complaint with the FTC that accuses PepsiCo and subsidiary, Frito Lay, of using deceptive digital marketing practices to target teens in what it says is a violation of of Section 5 of the FTC Act. The complaint filed by the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog and The Praxis Project focuses on the Doritos Late Night campaign and goes on to list the brand's Rihanna sponsorship as one of several examples where the snack giant illegally targeted teens "through a variety of stealth interactive marketing and data collection techniques involving social media, immersive multi-media content, mobile phones, and gaming platforms."

“Frito-Lay is well aware that teens are uninterested in advertising and therefore chooses to disguise its marketing as a more appealing format by employing minimal branding, immersive techniques, and viral marketing designed to make teens believe they are playing a video game or watching a concert rather than viewing advertisements,” the complaint states going on to say that "The company’s concealment of the nature of its marketing to increase the likelihood that the consumer will take the desired action is a deceptive practice under Section 5."

The complaint specifically cites Doritos' Rihanna tie-in as one example:

Doritos Rihanna Late Night – an online “entertainment experience,” featuring “pop icon” Rihanna, designed to increase sales of Doritos. According to industry documents, the company “looked at how teenagers were spending their money and realized that for the price of a 99-cent bag of Doritos they could just as easily buy an iTunes download, smart phone app, or Xbox upgrade.” Frito-Lay tied purchase of the product with accessing its website, which contained an “IR marker on the back of each bag” that gave “users control over the star” and other features. Teens were told that “by bringing a bag of chips” to its music site, they could “unlock the darker, hotter, late night side of Rihanna.”

Frito-Lay spokeswoman declined to comment on the filing.

"We haven’t received a copy of the filing or any documents from the organizations,” Aurora Gonzalez, a Frito-Lay spokeswoman, told Business Week. “Without seeing the documents first hand I wouldn’t want to conjecture on the allegations.”

It will be interesting to see if this case sets any kind of precedent for the practice of using exclusive online content to drive purchase behavior, an activation tactic increasingly used in the sponsorship marketing mix.