Marketing gold: Doritos X-13D Flavor Experiment

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Today I was walking through the grocery store, just minding my own business, when, out of the corner of my eye, I see a plain black bag of chips with a generic sans-serif font that says “X-13D.” In this age of sophisticated, glossy, photo-rich packaging, how am I not going to look more closely to see WTF this boring black bag is?

Doritos X-13D Upon closer inspection, the front of the bag says: “Doritos X-13D. This is the X-13D Flavor Experiment. Objective: Taste and name DORITOS® flavor X-13D. Receive additional instructions at or text ‘X-13D’ to 24477 (‘CHIPS’).”

I rarely buy crap like Doritos or other MSG-laden junk food any more, but how can you not be curious enough to drop $3 on this flavor experiment? It’s just marketing gold. The “Tasting notes” on the front of the bag provide this flavor hint: “All-American Classic.” Hmm, what could that mean? What’s All-American? Baseball? Apple pie? SUVs? Obesity?

Before making this purchase, I did consult the Nutrition Facts and ingredients, to see if I could make heads or tails of what flavor it might be. After determining that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sixth(!) ingredient in a list of about 30, I also found a few oddities: natural and artificial flavors (including beef and wheat), tomato powder, cheddar cheese, mustard seed, and beef tallow. Beef tallow? In corn chips?

In general, I try to avoid beef products (my concerns: synthetic hormones, antibiotics, fecal contamination, E. coli, mad cow disease, etc.) and MSG, but this consumption preference did not dissuade me from spending money on these Doritos to satisfy my curiosity. It’s a very good advertising gimmick.

Once I got home, I tasted the mystery chips. And then I was so horrified by the flavor that I continued eating them, unable to come to grips with what they’d done. The chips taste just like fast-food cheeseburgers (though I haven’t had a burger in a long time, the memory is clear). The beef, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles are all there. I do not like ketchup. But they have really nailed it.

It’s quite disturbing what Frito-Lay has accomplished with their powdered chemical flavoring wizardry. I can’t help but think about the billion-dollar flavor industry, and that scene from Fast Food Nation with the scientist who’s mixing complex chemicals to give an overprocessed burger a distinctive “flame-broiled” flavor. SCIENCE!!!

I had to make myself stop eating these chips. How quickly does the addictive property of MSG kick in? I’m frightened by these Doritos, yet somehow drawn to them.

Jones Soda Holiday Pack 2006 So, if you want to be a good little consumer and fulfill Frito-Lay’s marketing goals you can visit and participate in their sweepstakes (to win free MSG-chips for a year). I, for one, respect (and detest) their marketing brilliance for getting me to buy something that I never ordinarily would. But there is always a feeling of manipulation to go along with it.

Due to this odd snack flavor and advertising gimmick, I am also reminded of the bizarre limited edition Jones Soda Holiday Packs that are released annually. See the 2004 pack (featuring Turkey & Gravy Soda, Mashed Potato & Butter Soda, Green Bean Casserole Soda, Fruitcake Soda, and Cranberry Soda), 2005 packs (including National and Regional versions), and 2006 packs (including Holiday Packs and Dessert Packs). Matt at X-Entertainment has written about Jones soda packs in great detail (Holiday 2004, Halloween 2005, Holiday 2005, Halloween 2006, Holiday 2006). What will be released for 2007?

Note: If this post interested you, I also wrote a related post last month, called “Conspiratorial ramblings: Fanta, Coke, Big Pharma and Monsanto.”

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