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Despite the demise of Stephen Colbert’s presidential bid last week and the writers strike shutting down production of the show this week, one of the most buzzed-about and powerful integrations on TV yet — Doritos’ sponsorship of Colbert’s election campaign —might still have some crunch left.
And what’s even more astounding is that the integrations — which included extensive video footage of the “Colbert Report” host holding Doritos bags up to the camera and eating the nacho cheese chips, verbal mentions and jokes about the brand and an opening graphic advertising Doritos’ sponsorship at the start of every bit about Colbert’s campaign — cost Doritos nothing despite news reports to the contrary.
In fact, beyond the integrations, the sponsorship sparked controversy and widespread media coverage over whether it violated federal election law. Former Sen. John Edwards’ campaign even accused Colbert of being “stained by corporate corruption and nacho cheese.”
Colbert, Comedy Central and Doritos basked in the limelight, apparently realizing that all the speculation about election-law violations was unlikely to damage Colbert’s mock campaign, his hit show or Doritos’ reputation but rather would just create more buzz for all three brands.
“(The integration) already continued even after he was not allowed on the ballot,” a Comedy Central spokeswoman said, referring to Thursday night’s episode in which Doritos was featured throughout the episode and Colbert announcing that the South Carolina Democratic Party rejected his bid to run in that state’s Democratic primary.
The concept of the Doritos sponsorship came from Colbert and was arranged with the brand through its media agency OMD.
According to sources, Doritos and Comedy Central realized that it was illegal for the PepsiCo-owned brand to sponsor an election bid — whether it was a mock campaign or not — and no money changed hands as a result, nor was any official deal made or contract signed.
“We were thrilled at how much Colbert loved Doritos,” a Frito-Lay spokesman said. He declined comment on the financial terms of the deal, as did Comedy Central.
Branded entertainment experts praised the integration as one of the most creative, impactful and buzzworthy yet, quite an accomplishment considering that Doritos paid nothing while other advertisers are paying millions for integrations.
“Because of its far-reaching effects and because of the new-media world we’re in, I think you could say this integration could easily generate more media impressions than any other to date,” said Jeff Greenfield, principal of branded entertainment studio Buzz Nation.
Fred Dubin, managing partner at mediaedge:cia said in a rare opportunity for an advertiser, a popular TV personality was “legitimately endorsing a product. It was a very, very strong integration,” he said.
Experts said even all the media attention over whether Doritos’ sponsorship of the Colbert campaign violated election law made Doritos even more hip in the eyes of its young target demographic.
The Federal Election Commission never contacted Frito-Lay about the sponsorship.
Once the writers strike is over, it remains to be seen how Colbert will feature Doritos going forward. He said Monday that he was dropping his bid for the White House. After the Doritos graphic “The Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert Nacho Cheese Doritos’ 2008 Presidential Campaign” appeared at the start of his campaign coverage on Thursday night’s show, Colbert, chomping on Doritos chips, said: “If the Democrats deny me, that may be the last time you ever see that graphic. On the plus side, my body will stop producing bright orange waste. You can read by it.”
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