Snacking on Social Media: Lay’s Canada and Customer Engagement

samanthamehra    October 25, 2017

Social media (as its name suggests) seems to function best for customer engagement when companies bypass the impersonal and take the customer firmly by the (digital) hand. This courting is difficult to do, yet Lay’s Canada (a PepsiCo company), a brand which largely relies on *actual* consumer consumption of their products, recognized that giving the customer agency, or the feeling of ‘a say’ in the design or production of a product is a highly effective, person-to-person way of engaging consumers, relying on them to buy Lay’s products with the subtle feeling that they have had a personal investment or stake in the brand. As a marketing tool, this kind of consumer-business enmeshment is prime territory for social media, which functions largely (and hopefully successfully) as a means of engagement. By researching a consumer’s stake in the product offering, companies like Lay’s assess which viral topics or trends are meaningful to their customers, and follow suit with an effectively-designed interactive digital campaign to increase daily or ongoing engagement with the public. And the outcome of this kind of campaign can be unprecedented.


Lay’s Canada has, using social media marketing on particular platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter), achieved this kind of consumer involvement via a contest that invites the consumer to be voter, designer, chef, and/or product developer, and closely monitor the outcomes of their designs in Lay’s Do Us a Flavour contest, iterations of which have been realized beyond Canada. Interestingly, PepsiCo has thought globally on this concept, and the campaign is effective and malleable enough to be adapted in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada by appealing to each country’s ideas related to identity, nationhood and food. So, while the contest is niche in its product scope, geographically it casts a wide net. By 2014, the contest saw  “consumers submitting more than 12 million flavour ideas worldwide. Last year the Canadian contest received more than 600,000 flavour ideas from fans across the country.” (27 February 2014, Canada Newswire). Globally then, it seems, the social media landscape was ripe territory for potato chips. As the company explicitly stated, the goal was to engage customers to “interact with the brand in deeper, more social ways.” (Ibid.)

In this particular campaign’s scenario, contestants have approximately three months to submit their names along with a pitch for their capital idea for a new potato chip flavour. The engagement certainly does not end there. Both contestants and the voting public (who also have a stake in the finalists and the final flavour) may enter or vote via Twitter or Instagram, by using particular hashtags specific to their own entry or their favourite entry flavour. Social media users are also directed to the website via digital ad campaigns (on the aforementioned platforms, banner ads, or on Snapchat). Those engaging for the purpose of winning a grand prize (cash, among other things) are also enticed with daily prize draws, further compelling voters and contestants to invest a daily commitment in the campaign. This three-month marketing strategy culminates in the narrowing down of entries to four finalists, whose flavour entries are produced and made physically available for purchase (here come the revenue) in stores. After the country votes on the contenders, a grand prize winner is chosen.

Now, what on earth would compel Lay’s to rely upon the potato chip pipe dreams of Canadians? Research. For instance, according to a wire press release in 2014, Lay’s commissioned a national survey on  “flavour insights”, which largely revealed that more than half of those polled had held potato chip flavour ‘aspirations’, and that said aspirations were based on their favourite foods (which in this particular poll were decidedly diverse) (Ibid.). The research spoke, and the marketing strategy was born, one which required intensive engagement across social platforms. Three years later, the contest has become a staple in the annual marketing strategy for the company, and in the lives of a snack and social media-loving public.

Lessons for Others

This is an impressive social media marketing campaign from start to finish (each year), one from which we can glean many lessons. Its major strengths:

-Lay’s thinks globally: Like the social mediums themselves, the Do Us a Flavour campaign is adaptable to different countries, unconfined by geography. The product and the consumer aspirations were initially recognized as being global, and thus the strategy was able to cast a wide net on the web. A contest like this on social media in particular demonstrates a powerful global brand with a widely-consumed, trusted product and notable, identifiable company.

-Lay’s does the research: Conducting a highly-specific online survey on consumers and their “feelings” on potato chips and flavours was highly revealing, and no doubt was the major thrust behind the campaign’s successful design.

-Lay’s gives the customer agency in the product: Not only does the personalization of the process on social media invite the brand into the minds the customers, it also produces loyalty, advertises the product, and create an overall brand awareness. Whatever the industry, a customer just wants to be heard, even in the form of a flavour.

Organization: Lay's Canada
Industry: Food and Beverage
Name of Organization Contact: N/A

Authored by: Samantha Donaldson

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Harris, Rebecca. (2016, March 4). “Lay’s Do Us a Flavour Goes Globe-Trotting.” Retrieved  from

Lay’s Canada Homepage. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2017, from Lay’s Canada website,

The Canadian Press. (2014, Feb. 27). “The Lay’s Do Us a Flavour Contest Returns: Canadian Fans Invited to Pick Favourite Foods to be Yummy as a Chip.” Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Cision Canada/CNW website,