The Cheetos brand was not always top of mind during snacking occasions because Gen Z and Millennials saw it as a messy, nostalgically orange treat that they’d outgrown.
To get the target audience to pay attention to Cheetos again, the brand re-framed the product’s messiness with a new campaign called Hands-Free – putting the product’s messiness into an unexpected new context. The campaign playfully depicted consumers eating Cheetos while wishing a task could be completed hands-free to avoid touching things with cheesy Cheetos fingers– thus, implying that hands-free technology was inspired and now exists because of Cheetos.
To bring the essence of the campaign to life, the Cheetos Hands-Free House activation served as the campaign’s launch moment. The activation’s objective was to allow consumers to engage with the campaign messaging (“If It’s Hands-Free, It’s A Cheetos Thing”) and to spark awareness that Cheetos inspired hands-free technology.
As a brand, Cheetos has an established presence within American culture. Fandom around the brand skews toward a diverse audience that is very in tune with pop culture, especially regarding music, fashion, technology, and art. This audience is often “in the know” before something becomes mainstream.
The Cheetos Hands-Free House was strategically placed in the up-and-coming East Austin area of Austin, Texas, to engage this Millennial and Gen Z audience. Cheetos launched the Cheetos Hands-Free House – a new take on modern living – powered by cutting-edge technology – allowing consumers to eat Cheetos (with their hands) while engaging in household activities hands-free.
The house stylings were sophisticated, chic, and above all, pragmatic for what a consumer could obtain at present in their own home—in partnership with Amazon Alexa, technology integrated into the home showcased an attainable hands-free lifestyle using the artificial intelligent voice-assistant Alexa. Embedded motion sensors and robotic technology placed in the home were used to add elements of surprise and delight. The visual identity of the house was customized to incorporate Hands-Free campaign identifiers (i.e., Cheetle Fingerprint) and distinct design patterns reflective of the Austin, Texas aesthetics.
To amplify engagement and onsite traffic, the Cheetos Hands-Free House was activated during a premier cultural and technology-relevant moment – SXSW. In addition to being an official SXSW activation, awareness of the Cheetos Hands-Free House was established via earned media (e.g., press coverage, influencers) and paid social on a popular local Instagram page called @WhenWhereWhatAustin. No ticketing or SXSW badge credentials were required to enter the house to maximize attendance.
Once opened, groups of fifteen attendees entered the house by hovering their hands (one at a time) over a tablet. The tablet’s programmed animation simulated scanning a person’s fingertips and then stated, “Cheetle Detected.” (Cheetle being the cheesy residue left on one’s fingers after eating Cheetos). Next, scripted brand ambassadors prompted attendees to engage with the technological setup in each room. Experiences included: starting movie night via the voice assistant Alexa, cueing a robotic kitchen, and asking Alexa to start the wind-down mode before receiving a call about a party in the backyard. The backyard had complimentary branded snacks and refreshments and other tech-enabled activities.
To extend the life of the Cheetos Hands-Free House, Amazon created a virtual, interactive Hands-Free House living on Amazon.com for consumers to explore, with the capability to purchase products right from the digital experience.
The Cheetos Hands-Free House became a “must-see” activation at SXSW 2022. From opening to close, the four-day activation had two-to-three-hour queues daily. Total site traffic for the house exceeded the goal by 18% (totaling 2,600+ attendees). The Cheetos Hands-Free marketing campaign garnered 455 earned media placements, with 93% of coverage detailing the Hands-Free House activation experience, and 99.7% of earned media coverage was positive to neutral sentiment to the Hands-Free campaign. Over 1.1 billion impressions were generated, with over 11 million garnered across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. On TikTok alone, the hashtag #cheetoshandsfree garnered 8.0 million views.