When it comes to Lay’s potato chips, it’s long been hard to eat just one. On Friday on ABC, it may also be hard to watch just a single commercial for the popular snack.
Disney has sold one third of all of Friday’s national advertising inventory on ABC to PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay so that the snacking giant can run — and run again — eight different commercials for Lay’s potato chips that show actor Stephen Tobolowsky going through a scenario similar to that from the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” in which he is stuck repeating his actions in a time loop — with a different flavor of Lay’s in each run-through (and a growing sense of desperation).
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The plan marks the first time that Disney has teamed up with a single client for a day-ong sponsorship. The Frito-Lay ads will also surface on Hulu.
In the world of TV advertising, “you can buy a ‘view’, but I can’t buy a ‘like,’ and I can’t buy someone saying, ‘Hey, did you see this?’ That’s worth its weight in gold,” says Chris Bellinger, chief creative officer of PepsiCo Foods U.S., which includes Frito-Lay products . “That’s what we hope to get with this one.” Friday happens to be the very day when Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his burrow to determine how many more weeks of winter are left in the season.
Frito-Lay’s quest to capture consumers’ imagination with a big swing on linear TV breaks many of the top rules of modern marketing. In the streaming era, marketers have made bigger use of ad-supported hubs such as Peacock or Tubi to put up commercials in real time, while TV inventory is often purchased months in advance. Meanwhile, TV networks fill their commercial breaks with a wide array of pitches from many different advertisers, making sure that everyone gets a fair crack at top placement.
But Disney and Frito-Lay seem to have thrown out the manual. The “Groundhog Day” plan was sparked just two weeks ago, when George Dewey, co-founder of Maximum Effort, the boutique marketing agency he co-owns with actor Ryan Reynolds, reached out to Bellinger with the idea. The Frito-Lay executive assumed Dewey was talking about getting ready for Groundhog Day in 2025.
“People can feel the calculation of things done a year in advance. They can feel how many meetings were behind a piece of creative,” says Dewey. The “Groundhog Day” plan has a spark because it was done with a small group of people all working quickly to put it into practice, he says — a method that runs contrary to the way most TV advertising gets placed. Maximum Effort teamed up with Kimmelot, Jimmy Kimmel’s production company, to create Frito-Lay’s spots.
To give Frito-Lay what it wanted, Disney had to rearrange Friday’s advertising “traffic.” The “Groundhog Day” idea called for the ads to be placed in prominent slots in commercial breaks — the first and last slots in many “pods” — so they wouldn’t get lost in TV’s typical shuffle of quick video pitches. “Clearly, we already had some partners that were going to be in some of these spots,” says John Campbell, senior vice president of entertainment and streaming solutions for Disney Advertising. The Lay’s ads will air during “Good Morning America,”’ “GMA3,” “General Hospital,” ‘”Shark Tank,” “20/20” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“If you watch ABC, you’re going to see these ads,” says the executive.
Disney is making accommodations at a time when the flow of ad dollars to traditional TV is under new scrutiny. While the stock market has recently been in a boom cycle, marketers are working to follow the migration of viewers from TV to streaming venues. Media buyers indicate that sports telecasts and streaming are what catches advertisers’ interest these days, though broadcast TV still accumulates big audiences watching simultaneously.
The “Groundhog Day” concept hearkens to a different era on Madison Avenue when a really intriguing creative idea often held sway over consumer data, and digital marketing was unheard of. In the current climate, advertisers have reams of information about the habits of their customers that mandate where commercials ought to be placed, and have begun to rely more heavily on ads that are placed across social media and calibrated for mobile devices.
“We were out of our minds,” says Dan Sanborn, head of marketing for Kimmelot, of the plan for ABC. “We were aiming to have fun and put smiles on people’s faces and create moments that wouldn’t otherwise exist.”
Some previous relationships helped smooth the path. Maximum Effort and Kimmelot have partnered on a number of interesting ad ventures, such as a series of “retro” commercials produced for Kimmel’s series of reimagining of classic sitcoms, “Live In Front of a Studio Audience” on ABC, or a group of commercials for the finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” that featured departed characters brought back to life as zombies.
Many of the best advertising ideas hold great promise but often prove unduplicable. No one, after all, has ever tried to copy Apple’s famous “1984” Super Bowl commercial. At Disney, executives believe they could expand on this new model for others. “If it’s innovative and it’s going to entertain our consumers, we can scale this,” says Campbell. “We are up for it.”
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