Frito-Lay hired influencers to make a TV commercial remotely because of the pandemic and said it ended up being cheaper, faster, and more effective than a traditional spot

  • When production studios shut down earlier this year to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, the marketing team at Frito-Lay decided to hire digital creators to shoot its summer TV commercial remotely.
  • Many influencers have worked from home for years and are already equipped with the gear necessary to create commercial content for brands.
  • The entire production process, from sharing a brief with creators to the ad's release on TV and digital platforms, was six weeks.
  • In addition to taking less time to produce, the spot, "Let's Summer," was cheaper than a traditional commercial shoot for Frito-Lay.
  • "Even as the world gets back to normal and we go back to some of the processes of before, I would say we're never going to go back to the old traditional ways because we've learned how to unlock something we didn't have before," said Marissa Solis, Frito-Lay's SVP of core brands, partnerships, and media.
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When the marketing team at Frito-Lay sat down earlier this year to plan out a summer TV commercial, they didn't factor in a global pandemic.

"It was going to be all about the joy of summer," said Marissa Solis, the company's SVP of core brands, partnerships, and media. "Getting together with friends. Pool parties. The beach."

What came next — the shuttering of beaches, pool parties, friend gatherings, and TV production work itself — put a damper on the idea. 

But unlike some other brands that opted to cancel their ad campaigns altogether, the Frito-Lay team adjusted its strategy and moved forward. With most commercial production work already halted to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the team hired a group of digital creators to shoot the ad remotely.

"We have done a lot of work with influencers and creators from a social perspective, but never from this scale of a TV spot from the ground up," said Chris Bellinger, VP of creative and digital at Frito-Lay. "We had to kind of overhaul everything we had known and traditionally done in making a spot in the first place."

Interest in hiring influencers for their content skills rather than their "influence" has spiked in 2020 as companies have looked for alternative ways to produce ads while adhering to public health guidelines. Digital creators, many of whom have professional-grade video gear at home, can offer some of the services of a traditional production studio at lower costs.

To kick off its summer ad, the Frito-Lay team posted a campaign brief on Popular Pays, a deal marketplace for digital creators and brands, to invite creators to apply to appear in the commercial. They received over 100 submissions. 

In its brief, the Frito-Lay team said it was looking for creators between the ages of 21 and 45 to film scenes of summer in the new COVID-19 world. In a series of prompts, the team asked creators to submit footage of themselves "embracing the new world and owning it," acting "stress free" and "making it work" when "the world is on fire," and showing "how can you make your backyard as fun as a theme park with neighbors peeking over the fence" while adhering to all CDC guidelines for gatherings and safety.

"The brief was really interesting and they wanted a super quick turnaround time," said Nesrin Danan, a 25-year-old photographer and influencer with around 100,000 Instagram followers. "I was excited because I was sitting at home with nothing to do."

The Frito-Lay team hired Nesrin and other digital creators with video and photo skills to shoot footage for a 30-second spot. Creators filmed themselves playing in their backyards, eating Lays chips during a video call, and sprinkling Cheetos dust onto chicken parmesan. 

"Summer is here. So *bleep* it," the ad's narrator says. "Here are the rules for summer this year. Lay's are preferred. Pants are optional. Backyards, bathtubs, and patios are always open. And snack time? Snack time is any time."  

The entire process from submitting a brief on Popular Pays to the commercial's release took six weeks, the Frito-Lay team said. The ad aired on regional and national TV and digital video platforms like YouTube and Amazon's ad-supported OTT video service. The team also repurposed snippets from the spot for social media.

"Because these [scenes] were created a lot by social-content creators and influencers, a lot of it was already pre-shot and pre-formatted for social," Bellinger said.

The marketing team also discovered that a cheaper, creator-produced TV commercial can still drive sales. 

"We measure in terms of paid and earned impressions, which were more than the previous year," Solis said. "It did very well from a sales standpoint as well in terms of lifting our sales."

They plan to incorporate social-media creators into some TV spots in the future — even after traditional means of production have returned.

"We saw a lot of value in it so we'll definitely look at it as one of the many options that we now have to bring our creative to life," Solis said. 

Interest in influencer and UGC content has spiked in 2020

The idea of tapping into user-generated content for TV commercials isn't new. Coca-Cola created a TV ad from UGC video submissions in 2014. And the home security brand ADT ran a UGC spot in April. But interest in paying creators to make content at home has jumped this year as restrictions associated with the pandemic have halted traditional video production work.

"At the beginning of the quarantine, we had a lot of agencies that were saying, 'Look, our traditional shoots are more expensive and slower because we have to have redundant staff,'" said Corbett Drummey, the CEO of Popular Pays. "'If there's an infection we have to pause everything. And it's just really laborious and right now just downright dangerous to do it in the United States.'"

The influencer-marketing agency Obviously told Business Insider in April that it had seen a 33% increase in the number of brands looking to hire influencers specifically for their content creation skills rather than their "influence."

"To be an influencer, you have to have a certain aesthetic and a certain ability to do photo or video work," Obviously CEO Mae Karwowski said. "We do have a group of influencers we know that are creative directors, freelance designers, photographers, and videographers. They have those skills and this is perfect for them because it's their normal workflow."

Digital creators with specialized production skills have been better positioned than most to continue working during an extended period of sheltering in place this year. Many own production equipment that they keep in their homes rather than in a studio. 

"I've shot quite a few pieces of content for brands in my own home," said Sam Ciurdar, a filmmaker and director whose footage of his kids jumping around in an inflatable bounce house served as the opening shot for Frito-Lay's commercial. "The producer and I were just emailing back and forth constantly. They basically said they were going for a very home-movie vibe [rather] than something super cinematic."

Hiring digital creators was cheaper for Frito-Lay, if somewhat limiting

Creating a TV spot with influencers was more cost-effective than running a traditional commercial production for the Frito-Lay team.

"Definitely I would say cheaper than what we traditionally would have done with a normal shoot," Bellinger said.

Greggy Soriano, a Las Vegas-based food creator who filmed multiple Frito-Lay products in his kitchen for the spot, said he received a few thousand dollars to appear in the ad.

"When they told me that they selected my videos I was really excited and happy about it because I really needed it around this time," Soriano said. "I'm not a video production company, but I'm honest about how much quality I can give as far as my videos go. I just offered I could shoot from my DSLR or my phone which is in 4K."

"There was savings in terms of creating this way which also led us to some limitations in just style of shooting and formatting of picture and content and those elements," Bellinger said. 

While working with influencers created some production barriers, the Frito-Lay team said its "Let's Summer" campaign outperformed the previous year's marketing push.

"Both from a business standpoint as well as impressions and engagement, it did extremely well," Solid said. "Better than the year before when we had a traditional campaign that, again, we spent a lot of time planning and creating. This was completely different."

"Even as the world gets back to normal and we go back to some of the processes of before, I would say we're never going to go back to the old traditional ways because we've learned how to unlock something we didn't have before," she added. "The authenticity, the organic nature, and the agility and speed. We definitely want that moving forward."

For more stories on how brands are working with digital creators, read these other Business Insider posts: 

  • Some brands are hiring influencers as a 'one-stop shop' for video and animation as production studios shut down — and finding they're a lot cheaper
  • Dunkin's TikTok marketing strategy includes paying employees to post videos at work and it's part of a growing trend
  • Some brands are turning to computer-generated influencers who can be 'anywhere' during a pandemic

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