No Logo: Are Doritos Rewriting Branding’s Rulebook?

We’ve commented before on the trend towards “anti-advertising”, or ads that are on some level ashamed of being ads. Previous examples have come from brands who either are, or enjoy acting like, challengers – Brewdog, Paddy Power, even Burger King. The risk to those brands from baffling or alienating their audience is considered acceptable, given the reward of reinforcing an image as maverick rule-breakers.

That’s why the latest campaign from Doritos feels significant. This isn’t a challenger brand – it’s the category leader, one which already has huge equity and sales among consumers. And yet Doritos’ new “Another Level” campaign embraces the anti-advertising trend, with a hectic 60-second digital film leaving brand and logo unmentioned, stripping away the branding and only leaving the pack colours and triangle shape.

Before we look at how the ad tested, it’s worth exploring what Doritos might be doing here. The logic put forward by the brand is that Gen Z – teen and young twenty-something consumers – don’t trust or care about traditional ads, so this is a way of communicating with them more authentically.

That thinking only gets you so far – this is, let’s face it, an ad. So there’s more to it.

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the very basic reasons brands have logos and names in the first place – they speed recognition, which improves processing Fluency, which makes them quicker and easier to buy. But brands can get the same Fluency effects by using other distinctive assets – like colours and shapes – to trigger recognition.

On the surface, Doritos looks to be risking its Fluency by making this move. But what it’s betting is that its other assets are so strong it can simply lose the main ones.

One theory is that what Doritos are doing is a kind of signalling. The signalling theory of advertising suggests that a big reason brands spend a lot of money on broad-reach advertising is to prove that they can afford to. If they can spend money to take possession of media and public space, they must be strong, reliable and high quality.

Doritos might be doing something similar. If people link this ad to their brand just from colours and shapes, doesn’t it signal how completely they own the category? A move that’s a sign of daring and rule-breaking in a challenger brand becomes a swaggering show of strength from a leader.

There’s only one problem. What if the new campaign does reduce Fluency? If consumers don’t recognise the brand or associate the ad with Doritos, the whole idea risks damaging the brand.

That’s why it’s a good idea to test these things and find out. And it turns out that… Doritos have nothing to worry about. (Almost. There’s one big if, which we’ll get to.)

The ad scores 82% on Brand Fluency in our tests – a strong result and very much in line with other Doritos ads. Moment-by-moment brand identification (our FluencyTrace mapping) hits 90% rapidly. The Spike score, predicting short-term sales impact, is very high. Doritos have proved their point – they are indeed so recognisable that they can lose their logo and brand and still thrive.

So what’s the catch? Only this: on our ad effectiveness score, the Star Rating, Doritos ads do very well. They score 3.7-Stars on average on System1 Ad Ratings, a strong result. In 2016, their Super Bowl “Dogs” ad topped our list of the most emotional ads of the year. They’re a brand who are very good at making ads people enjoy that drive long-term profitable growth.

But “Another Level” only scores 2.6-Stars, a full Star Rating level down from the brand’s average. By the standards of all ads, it’s OK. By this brand’s standards, it’s a poor effort, surprising its audience but ultimately not engaging them. Doritos have proved their Fluency, but the cost may be their effectiveness.

This is the dilemma facing all brands so far indulging themselves with anti-advertising. The shock value might get them PR, the thinking might win awards, but to drive growth the actual ads have to be good, not just the strategy. So far, that isn’t happening.

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