There was a time when Doritos made one product – Nacho Cheese Doritos. This was a revolutionary chip. Even their shape was revolutionary. A triangle shaped chip? Fuck yes. Nacho Cheese flavored? Hell to the fuck yes. They came out in 1966. Nobody else was mass-marketing tortilla chips back then, let alone flavoring the shit out of them. Doritos was the Google of its time, so far superior to any other chip out there that to put it in the same snack food category as, say, Lays Potato Chips, would be an insult to the term “snack food category.”
Then they upped their game. When I was seven or eight, Doritos took it to the next level. How? By creating the “Taco Flavored Dorito.” How much did the Taco Dorito taste like an actual taco? Zero. It tasted zero much like a regular taco. Instead, it tasted better. Somehow Doritos managed to perfect the perfect food. Regular readers may or may not be aware of my fondness for all things taco related. Why? Because tacos are taco-riffic. And yet somehow the good people – nay, great people – at Doritos managed to create a taste so distinctive, it trumped even the good taste of tacos. And in doing so, they even managed to somehow made me dislike Mexicans less.
The Taco Dorito was spicier than the original Nacho Cheese Dorito, and miraculously seemed to contain more sodium than a chip that size should be able to handle. In chemistry, I remember learning about saturation and super-saturation. Somehow, perhaps using advanced 25th century magical powers of nanotechnology, the Doritos people super-saturated the Taco Dorito with delciousness. That is to say they put so much deliciousness in that product it threatened the very stability of matter itself. How did they do it? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t want to know. Even the Keebler elves never had that kind of power.
It was the perfect chip.
And then it disappeared. The Taco Dorito entered the Bermuda Triangle of snack foods. One minute it was there, the next gone without a word to anybody. And nobody besides me was even talking about it. Why was I the only one who seemed to notice or care. Several years later, when they cancelled that stupid Claire Danes show, thousands of people wrote letters to the network demanding it be brought back, and you couldn’t even that show. Nobody did that for Taco Dorito. Nobody did a god damned thing.
At first I thought maybe Doritos was playing mind games with us. Or maybe they were copying the folks at Mallomars, who only release their splendid cookie once a year. But as the years went by, I realized that unless they were implementing a “Taco Dorito only comes out once even seven years like the cicada” marketing strategy, chances are the Taco Dorito was gone for good.
Having been associated with almost exclusively failed projects over the course of my career, I would like to hazard a guess. My gut tells me the rest of America wasn’t nearly as wild about Taco Doritos as this lonely New Jersey boy, just as the rest of America hasn’t been particularly crazy about any of my aforementioned projects. My guess is that Americans preferred the safe, predictable, even boring flavor of the Nacho Cheese Dorito. Maybe the rest of the nation felt the Taco Dorito was too spicy, too ethnic, too different. And maybe, I suspect, they feel the same way about me. I don’t know.
From that point on, Doritos lost their luster in my eyes. They really started to slide downhill after the Cool Ranch Dorito was introduced. First of all, I don’t like the idea of Doritos in a blue bag. Doritos and blue clash. That’s why in all of professional sports there is not a single team with orange and blue uniforms except the Denver Broncos who have never won anything (except several Super Bowls). Will I eat a Cool Ranch Dorito? Sure, because despite everything I still enjoy Doritos. I love their wholesome crunch, I love the flavor granules that scrape off the chip and wedge themselves into the whorls of my fingertips, allowing me the orgasmic pleasure of scraping the taste off with my teeth when I am done with my chips. To me, that’s like a Doritos dessert. But I don’t love them as much as I once did, back when the Taco Dorito was around.
Since then, Doritos has introduced a plethora of flavor choices, all of which are now preceded by an unnecessary adjective. “Sizzlin’ Picante,” for example. Or “Smokin’ Cheddar BBQ.” Setting aside the fact that I don’t want to eat any chip that combines the tastes of cheddar cheese and barbecuing, I don’t know why the marketing folks at Doritos feel the need to add descriptive modifiers to their chip names. Nor do I know why they feel the need to drop the “g’s” at the ends of “sizzling” and “smoking.”
Actually, I do know.
Recently I did some work for the people at Pepsico, under the aegis of the Sierra Mist banner. What you may not know is that Frito Lay, the makers of Doritos, is owned by Pepsico. A couple years ago Pepsi invited me to go to the Super Bowl, which they sponsor. As part of the weekend’s festivities, they had a big breakfast/marketing meeting/cult worship ceremony in which all of the different Pepsico brands showed off their upcoming commercials. When it was Doritos turn to go, an exuberant, amped-up dude bounded onto the stage and began describing the Doritos brand. He used words like youthful and fun-loving. But one word really stuck with me that day. “Doritos are outrageous,” he said.
I wasn’t sure what he meant. Did he mean that the chip itself is outrageous? Or did he mean that outrageous people, as some part of their outrageousness, enjoyed Doritos? Or was it that Doritos forced ordinary people to do outrageous things? And what kind of outrageous act would be acceptable to Pepsico? For example, I imagine killing a hooker would probably not be okay. What if the killer employed the “Doritos made me do it” defense? I’m not expert on such matters, but it seems to me that could be very bad press.
No, I think to the corporate lackeys who make beverages and snack foods, dropping the “g” off the end of words = outrageous. The thought, perhaps being, that some square English teacher will see the bags on the shelves and say out loud, “They dropped the ‘g’. That’s outrageous!” As he stews in his indignation, some mop-topped skater kid will whiz by, grabbing the Doritos bag so quickly that the resultant breeze will blow off the professor’s toupee. That’s outrageous!!!
Maybe Doritos marketers think that people who routinely drop their g’s are rule breakers, and a chip that does the same will appeal to such people. But this is a slippery slope. That same skater kid (who is already breaking the rules by skateboarding in the supermarket) might decide that Doritos are awesome, but he doesn’t want to pay for them. So he just skates past the outraged cashiers, glides past the outraged security guys, and out the door, thus giving the proverbial middle finger to all of society.
Pepsico, I suspect, doesn’t want any actual outrageousness of this sort going on. Instead, they want the idea of outrageousness safely contained in a plastic snack bag. They want us to express our outrageousness through the radical, subversive act of eating a corn chip. Consider their marketing campaign that year. Regular people were encouraged to create their own commercial for Doritos. The winning entry would be shown during the Super Bowl. OUTRAGEOUS!!! Somebody needs to explain to me how the act of creating a thirty second television commercial for a multinational food and beverage conglomerate could be perceived as anything other than utterly bourgeois, which is a French word meaning “fucking stupid.” The only thing outrageous about it was that they weren’t getting paid.
Then there is the issue of some of the newer additions to the Doritos family like the 100 calorie Mini Bite Doritos. These are bags of Doritos carefully apportioned so that if one eats the whole bag, that person will be ingesting exactly one hundred calories of outrageousness. You can’t have it both ways, Doritos. You can’t be crazy and impulsive and also a 100 calorie mini bag. Or what about the Reduced Fat Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch Dorito? Reduced fat? OUTRAGEOUS!
Go to the Doritos web site here. There you will find all kinds of outrageousness: electric guitars, speedboats, seaplanes, plus advertisements for other products like the Xbox and MTV. Why does a website for one product advertise other products? That’s easy: outrageous corporate synergy. MTV? Outrageous. Xbox? Outrageous. There’s also an interactive video game called “The Quest,” whose tagline is “Guessing the flavor is just the beginning.” Honestly, I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I am “guessing the flavor.”
Scenario I want to avoid as follows:
Person 1: “Here. Eat this.”
Me: “What is it?”
I much prefer to know what I’m putting in my mouth before I do so. And when I do eat something, I want that to be pretty much the end of the adventure. Because in the past, any adventures I’ve had that began with me eating something usually ended up with me throwing up throughout the night. But maybe I’m just not outrageous enough to play a video game on a website for corn chips.
Why can’t we just have chips? Why do I need slogans and branding and treasure? I just want to be able to eat my salt and trans fats in peace. And I want those trans fats to be taco flavored, just like they used to be. Either I’m just not getting the world anymore or else the world is just gettin’ more outrageous.