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Seattle Police Cure the Munchies with Doritos
By: Jennifer Graber
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There is no doubt that festival attendees at Seattle’s Hempfest had a serious case of the munchies. But thankfully the Seattle Police Department stepped in to keep hunger at bay. In an effort to be "deliberately ironic" the police department distributed approximately 1000 free bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos at Hempfest. But the bags of chips were meant to be more than just a way to satisfy participants’ munchies.
The Seattle Police Department’s efforts, dubbed Operation Orange Fingers, were designed to also be educational and communicative in nature. The bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos had a sticker strategically placed that was meant to educate Hempfest festivalgoers, in a humorous way, about the state’s marijuana laws. Each sticker featured a list of do’s and don’ts, like don’t drive while high and don’t distribute marijuana to those under the age of 21. The stickers also encouraged consumers to enjoy Hempfest, listen to Dark Side of the Moon, and further educate themselves about the state’s laws.
This low-cost move was successful for the Seattle Police Department as it provided a way to bridge the gap between law enforcement and marijuana enthusiasts. In fact, it was so well received by Hempfest attendees that some unused bags have even popped up on eBay for as much as $50. But what about the Doritos brand? How did the brand fare after it unwittingly found itself associated amidst this brand stunt?
Social media consultants for the Seattle Police Department have stated that Doritos was not involved in this particular branding move and did not seem too concerned. In fact, one consultant went so far as to say that the Doritos brand is already associated with Taco Bell — which caters to the “stoners” and night owls. Do these statements from the consultant have any merit or truth? Are Doritos already helping cure the munchies?
When other brands or entities put on "unauthorized" stunts it does cause one to wonder how it affects the brand in question. Sure, it helped Seattle’s police force, but did it negatively affect Doritos? In a sense, this could be a double-edged sword for Doritos. On the one hand, though it was not deliberate, Hempfest participants might assume that Doritos had a little something to do with remedying their insatiable munchies. And, because of that, might be more inclined to purchase the chips in the future. Brand recall is a beautiful thing.
On the other hand, Doritos could potentially suffer an image setback due to the association of its brand with marijuana. In particular, the main concern for the brand could be the outcome and reception of future campaigns and positioning. For instance, because of the Hempfest association, will Doritos face resistance if it decides to align itself with families? Will decision makers in familial households forever associate the brand with partying and stoners? Or will they simply continue to purchase Doritos because they like the flavor and value, and couldn't care less about it?
Though the comments on the subject have turned political, mainly for the state laws, the act itself has been well received. The point is, for Doritos or any brand, one must really be careful about brand associations. And it is because the old adage is true; you are the company you keep. Sometimes the associations are intentional and sometimes they are not. Unfortunately, it is far more difficult to control the unintentional ones. A brand just has to constantly and consistently monitor its associations and be proactive in deciding what matters, and what has the greatest impact.


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About the Author
Jennifer Graber is a Business Development Manager and marketing enthusiast. Her specific interests include branding, consumer behavior, development, integrated marketing communications, and new & social media.
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