Ads That Promote 'Random Acts' Are Irresponsible
May 26, 2008
Remember the acronym
"RAoC." It will be useful when the lawsuits start coming
That should begin presently, if the "Orange Underground"
campaign for Cheetos from Goodby, Silverstein &
Partners, San Francisco, works at all. RAoC stands for
"Random Acts of Cheetos," and the idea is to recruit
users to perpetrate Cheetos-centric pranks against those
who deserve comeuppance -- like tossing a handful in
somebody's dryer load of whites at the Laundromat. Ha
As the (unbelievably amateurish) 20-something
orangeunderground.com presenter says, pointing to an
outsize Cheeto in a glass case, "The third rule of RAoC
is to stick it to The Man, preferably with one of
Get it? Alienated teenagers and young men chafe against
authority. So frustrated and resentful are they about
their humiliating powerlessness, they tend to lash out
-- or at least fantasize about lashing out -- at the
powers that be.
That would be mainly parents, teachers, principals and
bosses, but anyone and anything will do -- which
explains the tens of thousands of mailboxes destroyed
each year by baseball bats, with a trail of Mike's Hard
Lemonade bottles littered along the curb.
The perpetrators don't necessarily harbor animus toward
the U.S. Postal Service.
They just harbor animus in general.
Adolescent angst. This is powerful psychology and
therefore fertile ground for someone wishing to
cultivate that demographic. Ask any tattoo artist or
death-metal performer or drug dealer or anyone else in
the rebellion industry.
But here's a question: What should we think when a
leading national advertiser borrows a marketing strategy
from the drug trade?
Here's an answer: It's cynical and disgusting. Not quite
as disgusting as the 1994 Nintendo campaign that
encouraged teenagers to defy adults and "Hock a loogie
at life," but plenty disgraceful in its own right,
because there is another word for Random Acts of Cheetos:
vandalism. The Cheetos Underground explicitly incites
its shadowy network of crap eaters not only to
perpetrate mischief but to document their petty crimes
on video for the Cheetos website.
One (admittedly (perversely) funny) example, in a video
spot titled "Mr. Clean," is about a Cheetos-scarfing
office messenger distributing reports from cubicle to
cubicle and encountering the work space of a neat-freak
colleague. Everything in the cube is arranged at
absolute right angles, including the surgical tools he
uses to manicure his Bonsai maple. So, egged on by
Chester -- Cheetos's devil-on-the-shoulder mascot -- our
antihero uses his snack food to defile the cube. He
smashes a Cheetos inside the guy's laptop. He coats the
guy's iPod ear buds with orange powder and so on.
Later, when the (vaguely effeminate, hmmm) victim
encounters the crime scene while talking on his
cellphone, he stops cold and says, in his
wound-too-tight, anal-retentive way, "There's been an
incident. I have to go."
Another spot is about an obnoxious, pretentious yuppie
showing off some expensive, abstract inkblot of a
painting to his friend. When he leaves the room, the
friend smears Cheetos dust all over it.
Can you see how this is all destined to lead to
litigation? Or worse? Can you see how ethically bankrupt
it is -- Frito-Lay in the role of Ken Lay?
But it's not just that this campaign is mean-spirited
and reckless and generally contemptible. It also
ultimately makes no sense. Where does a
multibillion-dollar division of PepsiCo come off dissing
The Man? Dude, PepsiCo is The Man.
You like crunchy snacks and want to join a real Orange
Underground? Sweet. Boycott Cheetos and eat carrots.
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