Marketing the Rainbow

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Doritos is an American brand of flavored tortilla chips produced since 1964 by Frito-Lay, a wholly owned subsidiary of PepsiCo. Doritos - and some if its sister brands - have gained notoriety for its marketing campaigns, including many ads aired during the Super Bowl. They participate in Marketing The Rainbow, but not always in a positive way. Their love-hate relationship with the LGBT community was shown in a number of gay tease commercials, where gays were used to make fun of. In some cases that 'fun' even turned homophobic. The annual contest Crush The Super Bowl always spawned a number of similarly themes clips. This is user generated content, and has not always been used by the brand - but it shows a trend. 

The first steps: gay tease

In 2002, Pepsico’s Doritos released such a “gay tease” commercial with Enrique Iglesias, where the singer appeared to be falling in love with a man in his audience. The viewers quickly learn that Iglesias is after the man’s bag of chips.

In 2003, sister brand Lay’s potato chips released a satirical commercial showing four men watching football on TV. They make concerted efforts not to touch one another – immediately pulling their knees back when they touch and recoil when their hands reach for the same soda bottle. When their team scores a touchdown, the men are rolling all over the couch and hugging. Obviously, this ad, like the Doritos one, was not aimed at gays, but used a gay theme for ‘fun’. That approach can also have a backlash.

More "fun"... and homophobia?

Another negative response was received for an alleged homophobic video clip for Doritos in Brazil, where it was making the rounds on gay blogs. In it, four friends are riding in a car, when one of them suddenly starts 'dancing' to YMCA. A bag of Doritos covers the guy's face and a slogan says "Wanna share something with your friends? Share a bag of Doritos." While the whole thing may seem harmless, gay rights groups claimed that the commercial discriminated against gay men by suggesting that acting gay or coming out to your friends is not appropriate. Gay rights group ABGLT filed a formal complaint asking for the Doritos commercial to be banned from television.

Doritos in the sauna

In 2011 the Super Bowl contest saw another Doritos commercial with the gay theme, set in a sauna. Two men, sitting inappropriately close to another, seem to be getting intimate. Again, of course, this concerned the bag of Doritos that one, naturally, takes into a sauna. Crispy!

For the contest in 2009 an Adam and Eve commercial was made (done many times) called "What's Your Flavor?", in which Adam chooses a chubby guy with Doritos over hot Eve. In a variation to that commercial, Adam just prefers the Doritos over Eve’s seducing apple. This commercial, made by Vision Film & Television Production, was not chosen as the winner.

Told You So

The same year they released the “Told you so” ad - or did they? The commercial was shot by director John Kenney for the Super Bowl contest. Again, it didn't get chosen but it got a great response virally, being mentioned on Perez Hilton and the View.

Role reversal

A real commercial from 2011 is about role reversal: three female models strut seductively from behind a light blue curtain, wearing black, blue, and magenta undergarments. The shot is abruptly cut off by a Doritos crunching male crewmember. One of the models says “Excuse me… we’re working here.” To which he responds, “I could do your job.” The commercial then cuts to the three male crewmembers, strutting their stuff, clad in the same undergarments; bras included. Again the speaker is cut off: the female models behind the camera, in ostensibly male work attire, are munching... Doritos. They chime in with various criticisms, to which one male crewmember asks to switch roles. The models reject his request.

Super Bowl 2013

In 2013, Doritos presented “Fashionista Daddy” during the Super Bowl - the winner of that year's contest. The ad starts with a young girl dressed in a princess costume asking her father to play dress-up with her. The father is apprehensive, but is seduced by - surprise - a bag of Doritos. And then his friends show up. Repeat the sequence. The commercial was named by CBS as one of the 10 best Super Bowl commercials ever. It was the highest-ranking Doritos ad on the USA Today Ad Meter, finishing at 4.

Fun fact: the creator of this winning ad, 29-year-old Mark Freiburger of Los Angeles, got the opportunity to work with film director Michael Bay on the “Transformers” movie franchise.

That same year the video Noodling saw the light of day, one of the many fan-made Doritos commercials, in which a fisherman attracts a merman instead of the desired mermaid. As a matter a fact, a few more mermaid themed clips were made - although the connection to chips eludes me.


In 2015 Doritos launched their most LGBT friendly campaign ever, when they introduced their “Rainbows”, as part of the brand’s partnership with It Gets Better (the charity about saving young people from depression and suicide by giving them resources to survive living in homophobic families and communities), using the the hashtag #BOLDANDBETTER. It was not really the whole rainbow: the mini-Doritos came in a mix of five colors: red, orange-yellow, green, blue and purple. The crisps were only available via a $10 donation to It Gets Better, and were not available in shops – but after the campaign went viral online, they quickly sold out. The bags featured inspirational quotes on the outside.

The campaign got huge coverage in the media. Without fail, it also led to controversies: from the one side Frito-Lay were accused of gaywashing. Eco-website Natural News reported: “It doesn't get better: it gets worse. Rainbow Doritos is the latest absurd example of corporate #gaywashing. Frito-Lay trying to feed obese lesbians GMO snack chips laced with MSG and artificial colors”. Other people pointed out that Doritos was still responsible for unethical behavior like using palm oil and destroying the rainforest, and – of course – the conservatives indignantly declared they would never eat a Dorito again.

Rolling Stone said : "the bag of Doritos has bigots foaming at the mouth" - and they named a few examples.

  • "Doritos are a product marketed to children, so they make the perfect gateway snack to introduce children to the joys of homosexuality," wrote Ed Straker of the ironically named American Thinker website. Straker even classified the different colored Doritos – "green are homosexual, the pink are lesbian".
  • "What's next, rainbow Cheerios? Maybe the Doritos fag bags come with a toy dildo?" writes one thoughtful gentleman.
  • "I'm sick of the liberal left shoving godlessness and immorality down our throats," tweets another.
  • "Here's something that you don't want to think about while snacking on your chips," Bethany Blankley of Charisma News writes. "Left out in nearly all discussions about homosexuality is the reality that sex often infects people with E. coli bacterial infections, spreads sexually transmitted diseases and can cause anal cavity bleeding and rupturing." [remember, we are talking about rainbow support to an anti-suicide hotline]
  • John Nolte of Breitbart News wrote an explosive column, calling It Gets Better's Dan Savage an "infamous anti-Christian bully and bigot" because of his reputation for irreverent mockery of homophobic politicians.

The campaign was repeated in Mexico in 2016 and Brazil in 2017.

Of course there came the YouTube videos about the sampling of the colors... so what did they taste like? And then there was the website, who 'quoted' Frito-Lay spokesperson Claudia Rosales: "We've learned that hunger comes in all shapes, sizes and sexual orientations. Companies looking to gain an edge in emerging markets would be ignorant not to design or market products specifically to the gayest Americans." The new gay flavors hitting shelves include Qrispy Quiche, Late Night Dance Party, and something only referred to as Smooth. Rosales forsaw a future where other Frito-Lay products would be equally 'out.' "Gay Lays are right around the corner."

Cheers to the Rainbows!

Case study: Doritos

Branche: fmcg