Ruffles sees brand rebirth after Baby Horton promotion

After a three-year sales decline, Frito-Lay mandated the Ruffles marketing team to revive the Ruffles brand.

After a three-year sales decline, Frito-Lay mandated the Ruffles marketing team to revive the Ruffles brand.

With the "R-R-Ruffles Have R-R-Ridges" tagline out of commission since the 1980s and the brand's 40-year cartoon mascot, Baby Horton, retired in the early 1990s, the team decided, after reviewing consumer research, that the time was right to bring both back. In addition, the brand wanted to reintroduce Ruffles' sour cream and onion flavor and its classic packaging. Teaming with Ketchum Entertainment Marketing (KEM), both set out to create a campaign that revolved around Baby Horton. Strategy

"Our biggest challenge was to reintroduce the Baby Horton character and make it relevant for today," says Mark Malinowski, SVP and director of entertainment marketing for KEM. "We had to come up with something we knew would work and do it in a short amount of time."

After conducting market research to find an idea that would emotionally tie the Baby Horton character to consumers, the Ruffles team and KEM decided on a baby-naming contest. The prize would be a $50,000 college tuition fund for the first family to have a child and name him or her Horton within the allotted time frame.

KEM ran the contest idea past the local and national media as a litmus test for any possible backlash. When the response came back positive, the team surged ahead with the five-week, integrated campaign.


KEM timed the search to precede the debut of a new Baby Horton TV commercial for Ruffles around the third week of May. Parents expecting a child between May 13 and 20 were asked to log onto a specially designed website and attempt to be the first to sign up to name their child Horton. Before the official contest launch, the brand ran a full-page "announcement" ad in USA Today's Life section on May 12.

Deanna and Sean Chesleigh of San Diego were the first of the 49 parents who entered to meet eligibility requirements and deliver the new Baby Horton before the search deadline. Horton Chesleigh was born at 9:30am on May 16. The family was announced as the winner on May 22, and CNN was given the go-ahead on an exclusive, live interview with the Chesleighs from their home. The b-roll that followed included the presentation of a "Diploma For a College Education" to the parents.

In addition to promotions centered around the family, the campaign also included b-roll of Ruffles consumers reciting the brand's tagline, along with new and historic Baby Horton ads.


Over the first five weeks of the relaunch effort, sales were up more than 30%, surpassing overall projections. The brand also showed growth for the first time in three years, with net sales climbing 109.5%.

In addition, the campaign generated more than 81 million media impressions during May, for a total of more than 120 print and broadcast stories, including ones by USA Today and AP. These stories resulted in more than $5.4 million in ad equivalency, with the brand's tagline or Baby Horton referenced at least once in 100% of the articles about the contest.

The Ruffles team said that the classic Ruffles feel had a lot to do with the campaign's success.

"We looked back to the glory days of Ruffles and used now what worked then," says Jared Dougherty, PR manager for Frito-Lay.

Malinowski agrees, but adds that the success is also due to the family slant of the project.

"It was really about a family that wanted to get a college education for their child," he says.


While Frito-Lay is exploring the potential use of Baby Horton in future ads, the brand has no concrete plans to hold another baby-naming contest, though it certainly remains a possibility, says Dougherty.

PR team: Frito-Lay (Plano, TX) and Ketchum Entertainment Marketing (New York)

Campaign: Would You Name Your Baby Horton? search

Time frame: May 12-22, 2003

Budget: $230,000

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