Marketing’s Changemakers: why Lay’s is on a mission to make more people smile

Welcome to Marketing’s Changemakers, a new series from The Drum that tells the stories of brands trying to change the world in ways both big and small. Here, Lay’s vice president of marketing Tina Mahal discusses the brand's partnership with Operation Smile.

Lay’s is perhaps best known for its crowdsourced ‘Do Us a Flavor’ campaign, which has brought Americans bizarre flavors like Wasabi Ginger and Southern Biscuits & Gravy since it kicked off in 2012.

While the potato chip brand currently has no plans to bring back its signature flavor contest this year, it’s keeping busy with another campaign that launched just last week. Called ‘Smile with Lay’s,’ the brand’s latest endeavor has a charitable slant: for every purchase of a specially marked bag, a donation will be made to Operation Smile, a global charity that provides surgical care in developing countries to children and young adults who suffer from cleft conditions. Lay’s will donate up to $1m to the cause throughout the duration of the campaign, which runs until April 7.

The cause is one that the PepsiCo-owned brand has supported in other markets around the world, including Mexico and China, but this marks the first time that Lay’s is partnering with Operation Smile in the US.

“We are so happy that we’re able to continue that partnership here in the US,” says Mahal. “It’s shown such positive effects with consumers.”

The specially marked bags feature the smiles of 40 different people that Mahal says were picked from a pool of hundreds.

“They are smiles that we selected from across the country that we thought would inspire other people to smile,” she says.

The bags work for social media since they provide fodder for goofy selfies, which the brand is encouraging consumers to post along with the hashtag #SmileWithLays. On Lay’s website, consumers can create a personalized bag complete with their own smile and purchase it for $10.99.

Mahal says the bags themselves are a key pillar of the campaign since they provide consumers with a way to actually engage with the brand and its mission of spreading smiles.

“They can play with the bags, get away from the distractions of their day, and smile a bit more,” she says.

To officially kick off the effort, Lay’s hosted a three-day interactive experience in Times Square last week that featured a bright yellow ball pit with inflatable floats, a giant Mr. Potato Head with interchangeable smiles, and a 360-degree confetti cam. Dozens of people documented their experience at the funhouse-like pop-up on Instagram.

“It’s basically a whole experience where you walk through different rooms that have different things that make you smile,” says Mahal. “It instantly brightens your day. People couldn’t help but laugh and smile throughout it, and that truly is the purpose of the program. It was a great way to kind of bring that to life.”

The brand also has enlisted the help of singer Jordin Sparks to promote its link-up with Operation Smile, a natural fit considering the American Idol winner is a longtime supporter of the organization. Sparks was on the ground at the event in Times Square last week and has been spreading the word about ‘Smile with Lay’s’ on her personal social accounts.

So far, Mahal says that the brand has been pleased with reaction to the program. While there are no current plans to evolve it or bring it back next year, she says that's not necessarily out of the question.

For now, the brand will be keeping its pulse on how consumers interact with the campaign as it unfolds over the coming months.

“I think we feel really good about the kickoff and how consumers are already reacting to it,” Mahal says. “We always want to listen to them in terms of what engages and connects with them.”

As consumers increasingly expect companies to stand for a cause or make an impact on the world, Mahal says she believes this campaign will continue to resonate with fans of the brand since it makes it easy for them to contribute to a good cause.

“Lay’s is over 75 years old, and it’s always been a brand that’s been associated with joy,” she says. “So this program about smiling just felt like an intuitive thing to do, and what better way to do that than to help other people smile.”

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