The Contempt in Tangy Ranch Doritos

Yves here. I have to confess I don’t eat crunchy snacks, so I can’t get worked up about matters Doritos. But despite that, as a result of now often being in a room with a TV on, even with my back nearly always to it, I have discovered how absolutely dreadful TV advertising is. And the one salty munchie promo to which I am subjected is a total fail. Yes, it is memorably in how lame it is. It’s a bad acting exercise without even letting the audience know it’s a bad exercise. Two performers compete to demonstrate what the spiciness of this junk food is like.

Mind you’ I have heard this ad 20 times if I’ve heard it once. The commercial does not state the name or the product or even the manufacturer. What is the point about of an irritating commercial without having the irritation serve to drill the product name into your brain?

By Jared Holst,  the author at Brands Mean a Lot, a weekly commentary on the ways branding impacts our lives. Each week, he explores contradictions within the way politics, products, and pop-culture are branded for us, offering insight on what’s really being said. You can follow Jared on Twitter @jarholst. Originally published at Brands Mean a Lot

If you’re someone whose mundane existence has led you to ‘stick to the edges’ at grocery stores, you may not know that Doritos has centerpiece flavors, Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese.

Over time, Doritos has experimented with a range of supporting flavors: (my beloved) Sweet Spicy Chili, Buffalo Ranch, and even Mountain Dew. The newest of this ilk to hit shelves is ‘Tangy Ranch’.

You’ve might’ve noticed Tangy Ranch is similar to Cool Ranch since it also contains the word ‘Ranch’. Two different kinds of Ranch and one of them isn’t even spicy? To clear up any confusion, Doritos assigned the bag of the newer flavor a different color scheme. The existence of a second ranch flavor implies Doritos wasn’t content with its existing penetration of the ranch-flavored tortilla chip market.

Being the greasy lil’ chip disciple I am, I tried Tangy Ranch as soon as I saw it and guess what? It tastes a lot like Cool Ranch. Leading me to wonder, what’s the point of this shit? Is it possible the team running Doritos is creatively bankrupt such that the best it could come up with is a marginally different flavor of Ranch in different packaging?

These sorts of efforts render words meaningless. Tangy, Cool, Tangy n’ Cool. Blue bag, teal bag, translucent bag. Whatever. Words don’t matter. The chip inside is the same and the only thing rendered for the consumer is disappointment.

Paradoxically, words used in the same fashion can have an opposite effect. Consider school districts in Texas incorporating masks into dress codes as a means to circumvent state bans on mask mandates.

Instead of an indistinguishable chip flavor, the end product is still a mask mandate. Both efforts involved a change in wording, and both wrought an end product not dissimilar from the original. Both efforts yielded different results, yet both employed similar thinking from the teams tasked with delivering them.

Mostly, these efforts come down to two driving organizational behaviors:

  • Arrogance: A belief that those devising the product are smarter than those consuming it. Doritos failed where the school districts succeeded. Doritos’ believed its reign over the flavored tortilla chip market was proof enough of its brilliance and thus ranch with a different adjective in front was a good idea. Texas school districts knew its customers–those unwilling to adorn their progeny in masks before homeroom and the state executives enacting policy in support–were ignorant of an obvious loophole and the districts were confident in their position.
  • Contempt for the customer: Although not overt, an attempt as brazenly hollow as Tangy Ranch Doritos indicates corporate decision makers views its customers as too dense to notice this insult to their taste buds and intelligence. Because of this, decision makers viewed the potential rewards–the successful launch of a new chip and its attendant profit–as greatly outweighing the risks–the consumer picking up on the insult to their intelligence implied by Tangy Ranch and any ensuing fallout. Conversely, the school board disdains state executives and mask-adverse parents for the lack of a codified mask mandate. In addition to obtaining its desired outcome–masks worn in school–it achieved the result by refusing to take into an opinion it considered idiotic.

How Tangy Ranch and Texas wielded arrogance and contempt highlight how crucial the ends are in constructing the means. In the case of Tangy Ranch, and most consumer products in general, it’s served Doritos poorly. In the case of Texas school districts, arrogance and contempt can be wielded in service of positive outcomes.

Sorry to readers in Texas.

Of course, it’s only in hindsight that arrogance and contempt can be divined from the experience of theTangy Ranch Dorito. That isn’t to say that an organization still can’t employ backwards thinking when considering its goals. If an organization knows it’s ends–a different flavor of Ranch chip–it can work backwards to audit itself for these adverse behaviors. As an org, Doritos can reflect on its history to realize it has a willing and open consumer base and ask itself the following:

  • How should such a group be treated? How’s it been treated historically?
  • Does the arrival of a mildly different Ranch flavor insult their intelligence, or does it challenge them with a wholly new experience in the same way Sweet Spicy Chili or Tangy Pickle?

The ends for the school districts were different, because the audience was different. In the context of working towards the cessation of a deadly disease, hostile parents and elected officials don’t deserve the same benefit of the doubt as Doritos customers. A sentence I never imagined I’d type.

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  1. Jeff N

    a recent trend is for brand-name products to come out with slight variations, which they hope will give them some sort of differentiator over the generic equivalent. this might be that.

  2. Retaj

    Nice to hear that Frito-Lay is skimping on their R&D after squeezing their workers.

    Their ads haven’t reached me, so this is my first time hearing about this flavor. Perhaps their campaign has the philosophy that any press is good press.

    1. Wukchumni

      This flavoring craze has entered my realm of expertise* in Frito-Lay sunflower seeds in the shell, and being a purist seldom stray from merely salted to more exotic fare such as dill pickle or ranch, which just sounds awful.

      * been ate it since I was a kid, back then there was only David & Sons

      1. 430MLK

        I’ve experimented with others, but I’m in full agreement wukchumi. Nothing beats a package of salted shell-on sunflower seeds for a canoe trip.

  3. Glossolalia

    I pretty much only stream shows and movies on either Netflix or Amazon, so when I am around a live TV it’s really jarring just how frequent and stupid the advertising is. I watch a fair amount of YouTube as well which and although the ads are short and often skippable, they seem to be increasing in number. But I’m also amazed at how the ads are never for something that interests me in the least. Big Data was supposed to have figured me out. I’d like to think that it’s my strict employment of ad blocking and no social media activity under my own name or email address, but who knows, maybe Big Data is just a lot dumber that we’re being led to believe.

  4. .human

    No where does this author recognize the effect of the market presence of the product line. Another “flavor” commands even more market shelf space for an (unnecessary, big budget) national anchor food line squeezing out smaller, and possibly locally/ regionally produced products. Nevermind the possibilty of the need to pay for shelf space. I’ve seen a number of products over the years go from chest height to bottom shelf to gone.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      It’s very funny piece, but I’m sure you’e right that occupying shelf space must be an important factor in the branding silliness.

      1. Prairie Bear

        I remember reading a long time ago that cereal boxes were made the shape they were to take up more shelf frontage and crowd out competitors of the two or three dominant companies. Maybe the same for other boxed food products.

  5. The Rev Kev

    ‘now often being in a room with a TV on’

    Time for a set of noise-cancelling headphones. With TV ads, I often kill the sound which takes away about 90% of the attention-grabbing appeal of an ad itself.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Wearing Bose NC headphones as we speak. They do a great job of drowning out the neighbors’ barking dogs, endlessly idling car engines, and other annoyances.

      1. Antagonist Muscles

        I’m upping my sound muffling game.

        When I am home, I can somehow listen to music for ten consecutive hours. I do this to drown out the noises my computer makes and because I like relaxing music.

        Annoying noises like a playing television would be unbearable if I am concentrating. I use earplugs and safety earmuffs on top of that. It sure would be nice if humans evolved a way to close our ears like we can close our eyes.

        Evidently, I have some pretty amazing hearing ability. While I imagine some elderly folks would give up an arm or leg to hear better, my good hearing is often a problem. Superman’s most prominent superpower is, of course, super strength. His other prominent superpower is super senses. Apparently, Superman can eavesdrop on the bad guys from miles away. If his hearing was this sensitive, an ordinary loud noise like a door slamming should sound like a missile detonation. How does Superman turn down the volume?

        1. Prairie Bear

          I have wondered the same thing about dogs and their sense of smell. How can they cope with really powerful, awful ones?

        2. Mary Martin

          You have something to look forward to.
          When you get old & lose your hearing, you can control what you hear by simply turning off your hearing aid.

      2. JBird4049

        Just do I bypass the increasing number of ads in podcasts.

        Sometimes, there is no warning, not even a small silence or transition sound. It just changes, sometimes in mid-conversation, from whatever to some perky twit whanging about the latest cooooool podcast, some insulting ad telling me about the joys of the Covid vaccine, or something in spanglish! WTF.

        I swear, even if I like whatever is being advertised, I will not listen, buy, or do whatever the ad wants me to do, just to spite them.

        End of rant.

    2. WhoaMolly

      Yes, being able to control the ambient noise is wonderful!. I mute annoying background (usually distorted) music at the gym, in the grocery store, and when the TV comes on. My device mutes by 80 dB which is about right.

        1. Basil Pesto

          For street noise, many NC headphone/buds these days have an ‘ambient noise’ feature for when you’re out and about. I recently upgraded to phones and buds with this function and it seems like they use microphones to actually amplify external noise. Of course at that point it’s maybe worth wondering what the point of having the headphones on at all is. They do have gradations of ambient noise cancelling so you can find your own balance, if any. ymmv. I personally am a big listen-to-music-while-walking-in-the-city guy and haven’t had any issues (or close calls that I can think of), but maybe I’ve just been lucky instead of especially aware of my surroundings (I haven’t spent a prolonged amount of time in cities anywhere quite as hectic as NYC though).

  6. Samuel Conner

    I wonder what will happen to the “crunchy snack” market if a significant proportion of the population suffers long-term impairment of smell and taste.

    1. jr

      Vaccine flavored Doritos? They can’t taste any worse than the real things, which savor of spices and sweat-paste from the a$$e$ of sewer rats. Ranch dressing alone is an affront to decent-thinking folk. Atop a GMO crap-cracker with cheese dust and synthetic spices…

      I don’t know why the author of the piece eats that garbage, knowing what he knows about the producers. If he thinks the marketing team are dirtbags wait till he meets the food scientists in NJ busy turning nuclear waste into food. I watched the steady decline of the quality of ingredients when I worked in a frozen dessert plant, especially flavorings. Driven in no small part by climate collapse. Every flavor in the world is available in syrup form! They just don’t taste very good.

      1. Brunches with Cats

        “Ranch dressing alone is an affront to decent-thinking folk.”

        I used to think so, too, until I stumbled upon a recipe for homemade ranch. It’s to bottled ranch dressing what homemade from scratch apple pie is to Pop Tarts.

  7. juliania

    The photo made me think of the Texas aversion to masks in a different way. Certainly the Lone Ranger famously wore a mask — but that was an eye covering only; not in any way were nose and mouth ‘blanked out’ so to speak. And making any item of clothing mandatory – I can see the offense in that. Even though I am convinced that wearing a mask in public indoors is what has helped keep me on the side of the angels so far, and it’s no problem to me, old bag that I am. Yes, ’tis true; once somebody yelled that at me when I mindlessly stepped into the street against a red light. ( I forgave him because he didn’t run me down.) Wear a mask? It couldn’t hurt, so I do. I even wear two these days, freedom of choice.

    It’s a long time since I’ve eaten a dorito, but assuredly back in the day I did. And ‘ranch’ dressing of any sort has a folksy, down home appeal – good marketing there. So, why did they mangle covid care into something unpronounceable that hasn’t stuck in my memory? Maybe they too think it is a fizzer, going south fast, not worth real advertisability attention. Quick — a better dorito, fast!

  8. JPC

    I suspect the real game here is one of gaining shelf space, and of continually rotating some portion of the portfolio to keep people coming down the aisle. If they only had “cool ranch” and “nacho cheese” year after year, people who have burned out on those two products wouldn’t even look at the display. But by having a reputation for new products every few months, they get people to look at the Dorito section of the chip aisle. It ends up boosting sales of the full line, by getting people to try the classic flavors again.

    Oreo has been doing this to great success with various limited edition flavors that rotate through, and they’ve said that the main benefit is boosting the sales of the standard flavors. Pop-Tarts has also been doing this, with similar results.

  9. chuck roast

    I’m waitin’ for “”NEW Ranchitos”” Bigger than a raisin and smaller than a TV Dish so you can eat more!”

  10. LAS

    Having worked with them for many years, I can tell you that Pepsi/Frito-Lay does not consider consumers as their customers; they consider retail establishments and food distributors their customers. They are likely not intending to insult consumers (it just happens as collaterol damage) while they go for share of shelf, menu, and truck. Of course consumers have to buy the products, but there are bundling, promotions, and exclusive contracts to help with that. Mostly they’re managing categories with the retail contract in mind. They have to seem exciting and full of portfolio ideas for the retailer, as if they were helping that retailer to set itself apart from other retailers. It’s still a Potemkin village of course in the end.

  11. John

    I stopped eating Doritos back in the 70’s when I realized they were poisoning me. Total energetic collapse and brain fog for half a day after ingestion.
    20 per day exposure to their advertising sounds like CIA torture ops to me. I’d tell them anything they wanted to hear after 5 repetitions.

    1. Nce

      Maybe that’s the reason my pro paper was written so poorly, hah. The only time I ate that junk was during all-nighters, when I’d use the snack machine in the hall around 2 am.

  12. FluffytheObeseCat

    Equating school boards’ efforts to retain some local self determination against a grandstanding, White House eyeing governor with branding flim-flam is a real weak bit of baloney. As is insisting on arrogance and contempt as the motivation in either case.

    Neither bogus branding games nor mask requirements particularly hurt anyone. However, branding silliness is not analogous to public health rulings. Whether wisely or not, no one thinks up junk food marketing gimmicks in order to protect the health of the general population.

    But that huge distinction isn’t all that is wrong with this author’s arguments. He makes his two, carefully negative inferences about the branding, and likens it to including masks in school dress codes, without making any effort to convince the reader that he has a shred of evidence for his assertions about motive.

    He made no mention of any price increase associated with the lame rebranding did he? Given the author’s strained effort to imply it was indicative of contempt (not lack of imagination, not loss of more experienced marketing personnel due to attrition or downsizing, both of which could be supported with publicly available evidence) you think he might show some real injury to the marketing target, like price gouging. But he either didn’t have data to support such a conclusion or didn’t bother to look for it.

    He gives no proof to support any of his assertions. He clearly does not believe he needs to. He’s writing for the pleasure of an audience that is already convinced that contempt is the main motive of the classes of people* he’s attacking: marketing drones and the similarly middlebrow, middle management type who handle school district dress codes.

    Except, oh, wait! School boards in Texas are elected. The “mask-adverse” [sic] parents he’s so avidly defending had some choice in their appointment. Possibly they were thoroughly outvoted by the vast majority of their peers. Who also aren’t put out by nonsense brand divisions in junk food packaging…… because they buy their chips in bulk, at Costco or Sam’s Club, without looking at small color changes in the bags. They already know these small alterations don’t hurt them, rarely affect the unit price, and might on rare occasions even be of a little use.

    *(Easy targets. Easily caricatured by lazy cheap shot artists).

    1. B flat

      Bit of an odd piece; his real subject seems to be that the school board found a workaround that he disagrees with?

  13. MonkeyBusiness

    Out of Dorito’s offerings, these ones aren’t quite to my liking. But I can tell you a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos has gone from 1.49 to 1.99 in the Bay Area in the last 2 years. And there’s some shrinkflation as well.

  14. PlutoniumKun

    I recall reading years ago that the reason many market leaders spend so much on stupid adverts (detergents is one example) as its a way of increasing the cost of entry to the market. So the purpose isn’t to encourage people to buy more, its to discourage competitors from eyeing up their market share.

    Again with detergents, the reason why there are so many detergent brands owned by a small number of companies, is that having multiple brands of a very simple product is a way of displacing alternatives from supermarket shelves. Again, the purpose is to create a monopoly on a market that would otherwise be seemingly easy to enter.

    Of course, with something like this product, it may just be that someone ran some marketing and discovered that the two favoured words were ‘tangy’ and ‘ranch’, so someone just decided to put them together in one product. You can’t always dismiss the stupidity of product development based on intensive market research (New Coke being a famous example).

    1. Terry Flynn

      Indeed. In late stage capitalism a producer must engage in a type of price discrimination: scooping up all consumers who are ”further away from the equilibrium” to increase profit and discourage new niche entrants.

      Unfortunately people in my field perfected methods of market segmentation. Market failures and oligopoly power mean there are no niches left for new entrants. If there are a more than trivial number of consumers willing to try some ridiculous new variant then an existing company will quickly get it on shelves. If they’re really clever they’ll make it limited edition and reintroduce it later. That way they get to produce a twofer if a competitor even thinks about going after that niche.

      1. Questa Nota

        Meanwhile the online media people work on price discovery and shifting equilibria.

        Don’t like ads, then subscribe to X. Good luck with the auto-renewal loop.
        Don’t mind ads, then sign up for Y and we’ll mine the [family blog] out of your data.

        Anecdata point to more people unplugging, making their own play lists with the super-abundant content and exercising some agency.

    2. eg

      I believe that the “flanker brands” perform a similar function in the Canadian telco oligopoly.

  15. Acacia

    Post-TV here and no regrets. Ads are generally annoying but they don’t work by appealing to reason anyway. Is it such a surprise that the mad men have contempt for you? As for Doritos, double no thanks. I always thought the added flavoring stuff was there to disguise the taste of rancid oil. You get what you pay for are told to buy.

    Plain, taqueria style corn chips are the way to go, preferably with salsa or guacamole.

    1. Questa Nota

      Easy to make those tortilla chips at home, and fun to experiment with favored guac recipes, too.

  16. russell1200

    I bought a bag (hadn’t heard of them prior) when I saw them at the grocery store. Haven’t tried them yet.

    From reviews I have seen, people do seem to find there is a difference. So I am a little confused what the complaint is. Too similar of a product? To similar of a name?

    Personally, I like the Taco Flavored Doritos, but you don’t see them around here that often.

  17. Carolinian

    All true Doritos lovers stick to Nacho Cheese. As explained above, flavor variations probably have as much to do with shelf space as desperate need to reinvent the Dorito wheel.

    That said the joy of all that salty flavoring wears off quickly so I rarely indulge in the snack.

  18. drumlin woodchuckles

    I doubt the Texas mask dress code is “arrogance” aimed at the parents of those districts. I think they understand very well that it is a mandate. I suppose they are happy about it because it helps them keep their children a little safer in the teeth of Abbott’s effort to make their children sick. The “dress-coding” of masks is aimed at the Governor, to try and create some kind of forcefield around their schools against Abbott’s Typhoid MAGA legions of disease.

    Calling it “arrogance” against “parents” seems like trying to fake a case, to me.

    1. Stephen Gardner

      As a person who lives in Dallas County where our County has tried with tenuous success to legally fight Abbott’s political foolishness I have nothing but admiration for the Paris ISD’s clever workaround.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Maybe the clever workaround will spread.

        Meanwhile, our governor in Michigan has a well-enough founded fear of violent uprisings from the Typhoid MAGA Trumpanons here in Michigan that she won’t issue any sort of health mandate of any sort.

        Local communities will try doing this and that.

        I hope Texans Against Disease can someday outnumber and then defeat and crush the Legions Of Plague within your state.

  19. Fraud Guy

    You mean you haven’t seen the 3 new Lays Chips flavors: Lays Doritos Cool Ranch Flavored chips, Lays Wavy Funyuns Onion Flavored chips, and Lays Cheetos Cheese Flavored chips. Such innovation

  20. Maritimer

    See your local Torrent Dealer for ad free wonderful content much of it foreign, non Hollywood mental fare. One of the few positives of the Internet Age.The only time I watch advertisements is to have a good laugh.

  21. WhoaMolly

    I believe these snack foods are engineered to cause endocrine changes in the body. Maybe an MD can explain, but I’m pretty sure they are designed to be addictive. In the world where I am King, such foods, including caffeinated diet sodas designed to cause insulin spikes would be illegal.

  22. jr

    Just had to take the train into Manhattan for a work training. Total masking chaos: wrong masks, no masks, half-masked. Desperate homeless man screaming for money. Gonna be piles of bodies…

  23. Eric377

    Districts should obey the directive as the most effective approach to masking. Unmasked students would be a small and declining fraction of the population quickly. Not masking would gain no exceptional expressive value concerning liberty. Everyone’s “honor”, as silly as it seems, is kept intact. Then masking and other measures either prove effective enough or otherwise.

  24. Eclair

    Nobody mentions the recent strike by workers at a Frito-Lay plant in Kansas, which ended painfully. The company cut off the striking workers medical benefits, such as they are, and workers received no strike pay, being 82% non-union.

    The workers’ complaints? Mandatory overtime, 12-hour per day shifts, often 7 days straight, called ‘suicide shifts.’ Stagnant compensation for 15 years. Other than that, things were rosy. (The new contract allows an up to- 2% merit-based increase. Woopy doo!)

    Frito-Lay’s North American profits declined by 4% in 2020. Growth seems to be in Asia, Africa, South America, where there are millions of potential customers waiting to be introduced to salty, fatty, nutrition-poor food. Fattening them up for the PharmaPeople to move in with diabetic and cardio-vascular meds. Yay.

    Frito-Lay is owned by Pepsico, whose CEO pulled in a nice $17.1 million in compensation in 2020. Of course, $9+ million of that was stock-based, but there was a tidy $6+ million in cash. Buys a lot of Tangy Ranch Doritos.

    If I may editorialize here: Why buy Frito-Lay products? They have no social utility, they don’t even pay a decent wage to workers. If you like salty, tangy snacks (count me in,) there are local companies all across the US that make potato and corn chips.

  25. paintedjaguar

    Hard to purchase competing product lines when they’ve been squeezed off the shelf by this sort of marketing practices. And you do know that Pepsico, Mondelez, etc actually pay grocery stores for shelf space? Even to the extent of sending their own employees in to do the shelf stocking, which gives them an opportunity to physically shove aside the competition. Between this stuff and ad buys, it’s no wonder their products are so ridiculously overpriced.

    1. Eclair

      People who don’t read and comment on NC will, of course, be lulled into buying Frito-Lay products. They are everywhere! But, we NC’ers know better. Look around the corners, on the bottom shelves, in ‘health food’ stores, for local/small company alternatives, if you must indulge. Tell your friends that F-L chips are made in Kansas by slave labor. (OK, not technically ‘slave;’ maybe ‘sweated labor?’ )But don’t just heave a sigh and say ‘there is no alternative.’

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I see smaller-scale alternatives to Frito-Lay. I haven’t looked for artisandustrial corn or tortilla chips. But I see regionalocal artisandustrial potato chips of many brands in the mainstream store. On the very bottom shelf. I just look down and there they are.

  26. griffen

    Crunchy snack plus cold, adult beverage. I just summarized 2 of the largest ad buyers for the upcoming 17 game NFL season. Plus college football Saturdays.

    Throw in a commercial for a Dodge, Ford or Chevy truck, and boom there you go.

    Bad messaging sticks in my head like a bad memory.

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