Episode 19


What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… Doritos.

Show Notes (click to expand)

When I started my brand marketing career at Nabisco I worked on a new snack that we thought would be a direct competitor to Doritos. 

Thinking we had a hit on our hands, we launched the product quickly, with minimal consumer research, expecting it to be a huge success.

We shot a TV commercial showing two models walking down the street eating an orange bag of competitor chips (a la Doritos-esque) and one of the models wiped her hands on her pants leaving a multi-finger cheese stain on them. Then two teenage boys walked past them, seeing this big cheese stain, laughed and gave the models a look suggesting that the chips they were eating did NOT leave that kind of residue. 

We were convinced that eating chips that gave you cheesy fingers was a huge a pain in the ass. Our product was mess-free and tasted delicious…an instant hit….or so we thought.

Turns out our chips BOMBED big time…..and boy did we get this insight wrong. We learned – the hard way I might add – that licking fingers means FLAVOR….lots of FLAVOR…and that’s THEEEEEE #1 reason why people buy Doritos. The commercial implied that our chips had ZERO flavor….let me say that again…ZERO flavor…why? Because there was nothing to lick off fingers as snackers were munching.

During our post-mortem lessons-learned around this failed launch, we learned that everything about Doritos SCREAMS FLAVOR. The bag, for instance, yells bright orange cheese. When you take the product out of the bag, your fingers gets all CHEESY. After taking a bite, the flavor hits your tongue first, and at the end, it gives you a smooth CHEESE feel. And, of course, once you’re done, you have to lick the CHEESE off all of your fingers. Teenage boys and college-aged men told us this is the BEST PART of eating a bag of Doritos…the CHEESIER…the BETTER.

Turns out – Doritos is a Super Bowl Party Must-Have. The nacho cheese flavor is the top-selling chip during Super Bowl season…and the name of this famous chip is derived from the word “Doradito,” meaning “little bits of gold.” Does the color make more sense now?

Doritos are iconic because of their orange color. Licking the orange powder off of your fingers is all part of the Doritos experience. The bright orange dust, it turns out, is difficult if not impossible to compete with

That product failure taught me a huge lesson early on in my career…your consumers are KINGS (AND QUEENS) and you MUST let them lead the way if you want a shot at becoming an iconic brand.

If there’s one thing I now know for sure, it’s this:

o Your product is NOT your brand.

o Your brand is your Core Value…AND

o You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.

o DORITOS uses their chips to drive their Core Value of


With ‘One Word’, Billion dollar brands are born.

So, the next time you’re in the mood to lick your fingers, remember:

CHEESY is how Doritos SCORES.

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The


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