Let's potato chips - the blue and yellow chip bags that appear in almost every show we have ever seen are actually props created by Independent Studio Services. Over the years, featuring in 100s of shows and thousands of important scenes - Let's has gained a cult brand status, giving us a content marketing case study.
Let’s potato chips - does the name ring a bell? Let me jog your memory. Remember when Dean Craig in Community grabbed a blue bag of Let’s potato chips with his six-pack of beers? Or when Max slept with a bag of Let’s Chips in 2 Broke Girls or when The Middle showed almost all flavors of Let’s Chips (pick literally any scene and Axl is seen gobbling these wafers), or when Jess’s One-Time boyfriend in New Girl had some beer and Let’s potato chips with Nick and Winston? I can go on and on.
This beloved chip brand has been featured in nearly 100 shows and even more movies. This includes your big-ticket titles such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, and Everybody Loves Raymond.
But you can’t buy Let’s chips because they DO NOT EXIST.
A fake product created out of necessity to avoid any potential copyright infringement went on to become one of the most popular chip brands in the world - all courtesy of good content. An ideal example of content marketing, you might say.
Let’s Chips - The Origins
Independent Studio Services or ISS is a prop supplier for television and film production studios in Hollywood that created Let’s potato chips. According to a YouTube channel, Scott Prop and Roll, nearly 20 years ago, a designer, Marvin Mancia, was asked by the studios to create a chip bag. Mancia with his friend and designer, Lettie, created Let’s. Why?
One, why give any brand a free product placement or take the risk of being sued by a brand for using their name in let’s say a storyline that may or may not resonate with what they stand for. Secondly, as Scott points out in the video, if for instance, Pringles purchases commercial air-time for ad spots during your content, but you happen to show their rival in that episode, the paying brand is bound to be miffed.
While Hollywood shows such as Seinfield and The Office have often shown real brands, it is only because it has been essential to the nature of the story or the character. For instance, Seinfield writers had shared in an interview that they included many local snack brands in their script over the years, to give the show a true metro vibe - important to the story and the characters of Jerry, Kramer, George, and Elaine. Other than that, more often than not, brand names are either blurred in shows or not used at all.
Let’s potato chips also had some technical benefits that a good prop would. Like, the chip bags were made out of vinyl, which has no crinkling sound that usual chip bags have, making shooting and editing simpler.
Let’s Potato Chips - The Content Marketing Case Study
Why is all this relevant to us as the dwellers of the Advertising & Media industry? Well, good content, was able to establish a brand that doesn't even exist. What kind of wonders can it do, when used aptly, for brands that do exist?
Let the chips fall where they may…
Content marketing, like any other form of marketing or advertising, comes with a client brief. And like every brief ever made, there are certain guidelines attached to it. A 5-second zoom shot of the product or a certain expression being said when the product is part of the frame. While these guidelines are important and understandable, especially when a brand is investing a considerably large amount - they tend to hinder the functionality of content marketing.
Anyone who has seen the Netflix Original K-Dramas Vincenzo and Hometown Cha Cha Cha must have noticed Kopiko’s evident presence in both the shows. Now, it may not have been a paid deal with Netflix, but the screen time assigned to the product and character reactions that often follow, give it a scripted vibe.
The benefit that Let’s potato chips enjoyed was that there was no pressure, no guidelines, it was always in the background, in the right place, at the right time, doing its thing. These chips have been so well embedded in the storyline that they capture the audience's attention by organically being a part of the script.
My favourite example of content marketing done right in India has been Kingfisher’s association with TVF for Pitchers. ‘Tu Beer Hai…’ was so subtle in terms of brand integration, but so integral to the story, that Kingfisher became a part of the audience fabric.
Avoid Crash Diets…
This again applies to all forms of marketing - influencer marketing, meme marketing, or content marketing - one fleeting appearance in a great piece of content is likely to be forgotten. But a long-term content marketing strategy is bound to generate a higher recall.
The first time you saw a bag of Let’s you most likely didn’t give it a second thought. Until you saw it yet another time, being hogged by your favourite character. And then a few other times - as a part of various storylines (placed in the interrogation room in front of Captain Holt & Jake Peralta or while Rory ate Let’s while she and Marty crammed for their exams) that you decided to Google it and see if it's available in India.
A long-term strategy helps establish the brand and the product’s character, stance, personality, and voice. It gives viewers the opportunity to build a relationship with the brand, wherein after seeing it multiple times they wish to order the same thing for themselves. I personally know someone who ordered Pop-Tarts after completing Gilmore Girls.
This works the other way around too. Damon and Stefan Salvatore - the brothers from The Vampire Diaries were so vividly associated with bourbon whiskey (well, Damon more than Stefan), that the duo (Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley) in real life launched a whiskey brand - Brother's Bond.
And brands too are picking up on this trend quickly as they forge long-term relationships with OTT platforms and production houses. For instance, Nykaa had inked 3 movies and one show partnership with Netflix back in 2020.
Content marketing is an age-old concept. It existed from the days of Doordarshan in India when brands created 30-minute shows of which they would be sponsors. What it boils down to is the usage and application of it - Let’s is a prop that achieved brand status purely on the basis of the content it featured in. If content marketing was able to create a brand that doesn’t exist, imagine what it can do for a brand that does.