Frito-Lay CMO Jennifer Saenz on keeping brands spicy and personalizing snacks

Frito-Lay SVP and CMO Jennifer Saenz tells Diana Bradley about the snack company's approach to consumer engagement.

What’s your outlook for Frito-Lay North America in your role as CMO?
We’re constantly assessing the landscape and understanding what people are looking for in snacks when it comes to flavor and experience. We make sure we’re paying attention to flavor trends and how we respond. Hot and spicy is one trend, so we make sure people have those hot and spicy snacks they love. But we also see a lot of movement toward hybrid snacks - snacks that are a bit of a mash-up. Some of the work we’re doing with Burger King and Cheetos Chicken Fries is a great example of those fun mash-ups that get consumer attention. It’s a movement toward personalization and making sure we’re deeply engaging with consumers and creating conversations. 

Frito-Lay also paired up with Taco Bell to sell Doritos Locos Tacos. Not everyone is a fan of such offbeat items, so how do you respond to naysayers sounding off on social media?
We listen to consumer voices and understand what they’re talking about. If there’s an opportunity to engage them and have a conversation, we’ll try to do that. Sometimes it is great feedback on areas we can improve, either with our products or other opportunities. So whether good or bad, we want to hear from our consumers.

Doritos partnered with Rock the Vote in September to increase voter registration as part of its Boldest Choice campaign. Why did you decide to do this now?
Doritos has a great narrative in inspiring bold actions among consumers. It felt natural to engage with the process because it’s what consumers are talking about. It is top of mind right now. This brand wants to be relevant and part of conversations.

From engagement with students around this campaign we’ve seen it’s a clever way to capture attention and has an overarching influence on their registering to vote and hopefully going out and voting on Election Day.

You previously led Lay’s, running programs such as Do Us A Flavor. And Cheetos has been encouraging consumers to add to its online Cheetos Museum. What’s your approach to consumer engagement?
We try to tap into what consumers love about the product. For Doritos, it is boldness, so we do bold things to bring the brand to life. Cheetos are like clouds - there is this imagination and playfulness about them. We hear from people all the time that the shapes look like other things. So it unlocks the creativity that is the spirit behind the Cheetos Museum. Lay’s captures people’s imagination with flavor. When we touch consumers, it is playing off those truths about our products and advancing the brand narrative.

How are you marketing to millennials and Generation Z?
It’s important to make sure you’re having a conversation with them, that it feels natural and the marketing is engaging. We certainly use media that is more appealing. We know their focus and attention is on that screen in front of them, so we make sure we’re leveraging social and digital media. We also make sure the content we’re providing them is interesting and engaging, whether it’s an engagement program like Doritos Boldest Choice or just a video they find so interesting they can’t help but share it.

How do you work with influencers?
For Doritos’ Boldest Choice campaign, we got influencers involved who would create a post about the brand and spark that conversation in social media. We also held an event for Lay’s in September with actor Josh Peck, known for his roles on Drake & Josh, Grandfathered, and Fox series Pitch, as our celebrity host. He is now an influencer. We created video content for Facebook with him around that event.

Using any new social media platforms or features?
We have used Facebook Live editorially. In September, when we took the official online Cheetos Museum into the real world of Grand Central Terminal, we interviewed people via Facebook Live. We’re looking at the balance between Facebook Live and true content.

Frito-Lay is quietly adding GMO ingredient labels to some foods. How are you communicating around such a controversial topic?
From a regulatory and labeling perspective, we always make sure we adhere to decisions. That’s really what those labels are about. GMOs are not something we comment on.

What PR agencies do you work with?
Ketchum is our main PR agency. We also use Golin and Carmichael Lynch Relate on some of our premium brands.

How many people handle comms and marketing at Frito-Lay?
Roughly 200.

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