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10/18/2010 Teaching Change and Turning Negatives into Positives

Frito Lay launched a new, biodegradable bag for its SunChips product, opting to combine a green initiative with snack food. Maybe that combination was too improbable. In any case, Frito Lay now announced it was switching back to the original bag since the new one was very noisy. So noisy, in fact, that an entire Facebook group, with over 50,000 people, sprang up to register its discontent. The “Sorry, I can’t hear you over this Sun Chips Bag” group and protests on YouTube and other social media channels evoked this response from Fritos:

 "We need to listen to our consumers," Spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez said. "We clearly heard their feedback."

From a green, sustainable perspective, this shows the challenge of getting people to do something that’s good for the environment at the expense of habit and convenience. Do people act rationally (they know it helps fight global warming) or emotionally (it feels easy and comfortable)? 


I can’t help looking at Sun Chips and thinking that Frito Lays lost a huge opportunity to do good. Surely they knew that the bags sounded loud. I can’t imagine they didn’t do any customer testing around the product; that’s what packaged goods companies do. So if they knew the bags were louder than normal why didn’t they do something to prepare customers for the change?  It’s not like they couldn’t have done a few things.

They could have educated customers more. That means going out and telling them that the bags were loud but that they were loud for a good reason. They would have had to repeat that message over and over to make sure it penetrated the market. And they would have had to include that messaging on the bag itself.

Or they could have turned the negative of the noisy bag into a positive. That’s what creative companies do. Imagine that instead of the spoof we’re seeing online, Frito Lays had made noise into a product feature!

  • Bring your SunChips to a sports event and drown out those air horns
  • Visiting that pushy mother- (or father)-in-law? Just bring a bag of SunChips and tune out.
  • Do you hate the program your partner/spouse watches on TV? Start snacking on Sun Chips and soon you’ll have the set to yourself.

I mean these are really easy ideas. Companies have a hard time turning negatives into positives because they have to admit that there’s a negative in the first place! That’s the real lesson here, and Frito Lays gets an F on this test.

It raises a bigger question around green and sustainability marketing. You can’t simply count on someone to do something because it’s “good.” It should be that way, but it isn’t. Robert Cialdini in his book “YES” described the case of hotel towels and the challenge of getting guests to hang up and reuse their towels to lower energy usage. He found that when hotels created materials explaining why guests should hang up their towels (rational approach) they hung up their towels LESS than when they created materials telling guests that most OTHER guests hung up their towels, so they should too (emotional approach).

There are lots of lessons here. This cause really is too important to mess up.



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