Think Outside the Bag: Top 5 Road Trip Snack Marketing Lessons


It’s summer and you’re about to hit the road on your way up north to the cabin or maybe out to see Mount Rushmore or the Grand Tetons. Don’t take those gas station stops for granted along the way. When you fuel up on the snacks, remember to soak in the marketing lessons along the way. Not sure what I mean? Well, grab shotgun and come along with me on a ride through a copywriter’s mind. I’ll give you a quick tour of my top five road trip snacks and dial up some salty/sweet marketing insights along the way. You’ll never look at Funyuns the same.

#5 Funyuns:

They put the Fun in Onions.

I have never in my life seen an ad for Funyuns. Not on TV. Nor on Instagram. Nor on a banner ad. Nay a billboard. Never. But if I’m hitting the road, there’s an 85% chance that I’m bringing this yellow bag of slightly onion-flavored gold along with me. Crunchy, light, salty with just the right amount of onion. So why is it on my list? What’s the lesson to learn here? Create a fun brand and a good product and people just might buy it.

Let’s start with the name. Where’d they get the “Y”? It’s clear to see they’re combining Fun + Onions. It turns out the inventor of the name, a copywriter and professor at the University of North Texas named Jim Albright, originally named them “OnYums.” Good thing for Jim and the rest of us, someone else had already registered it. So here we are, have some fun with some onions, everybody!

It’s not hard. It’s fun. Sometimes marketing isn’t as hard as we make it out to be, and it’s also a lot harder than it seems. So what does that even mean? Well, it can be hard work to make a fun brand. But it’s clear that Funyuns is committed to that in a grass roots ground up sort of way. Take their Instagram feed for instance. It’s fun like you’d expect; even their description is great: “Come for the fun. Stay for the yuns.”

Hidden marketing lesson:

Bake fun into your brand and focus on superior fluffed corn meal and onion craftsmanship. Use color, typeface and name to catches people’s attention.

#4 Combos:  

Some things are just meant to be.

I think the coolest thing about combos is that they put two things together. And instead of doing the classic branding move where you combine two words to make a new word, like our friends over at Frito-Lay – Funyuns, Doritos, Fritos, etc. – they just called them Combos. Avoiding the temptation to call them Cheetzles. Wise move, Combos. Just like stuffing a pretzel with pizza-flavored cheese.

Another lesson you can glean from Combos is considering experimentation with your product lineup. Not only do they have Pizzeria Pretzel and my personal favorite, Pepperoni Pizza Cracker, but they introduced a limited-edition Honey Sriracha Pretzel. I can immediately picture the research team on this one:

Hey Clarence, this Sriracha Pretzel is a little to Sriracha-ey.

You don’t say? Wonder what we could add?

Soy sauce?





Snack Hall of Fame – here we come.

Hidden marketing lesson:

Don’t be afraid to try new things. And if you’re naming a product or service, it doesn’t always have to be two different words combined together to form a new word.

#3 Doritos:

A legacy of pushing all their chips in.

Spicy nacho. One of the best snack foods ever invented. Doritos. One of the most memorable brands ever invented. I have always wondered why there are so many snack foods spots on during the Super Bowl, because typically you’ve purchased all your snacks by the time you see the ads for snacks. They must be hoping to stick in your head all the way through until next year. Regardless, or as some folks say on Instagram, “irregardless,” Doritos has done some really smart marketing over the years and has captivated my senses both with storytelling boldness and spicy flavors. Remember Sam Elliot’s dancing mustache on that Super Bowl spot?

They also recently partnered with a fellow snack food brand, Cheetos, in the battle of Flamin’ Hot. (My 7 year old daughter says Flamin’ Hot Cheetos win by a landslide, by the way.)

Hidden marketing lesson:

Moving people with INTERESTING stories, products and promotions helps you move units.

#2 Skittles:  

Influence the rainbow.

Skittles. Marshawn Lynch. It’s a brand/spokesperson match made in road trip snack heaven. But it wasn’t manufactured. Marshawn was eating “power pellets” long before he was ever endorsed for doing so.

The partnership grew from publicity surrounding his love for Skittles after scoring touchdowns, and the brand has embraced his unique personality as fan favorite ever since. Now a decades-long brand partnership based in a true relationship with the brand, it’s hard to think of Skittles without Marshawn or Marshawn without Skittles.

Hidden marketing lesson:

Embrace your TRUE influencers.

#1 Jack Link’s Beef Jerky:

 You can’t mess with the ‘squatch.

OK, so beef jerky has a near and dear place in my stomach. I don’t care if it’s the beef jerky chew or the snack stick variety; you cannot beat the nutritional value and flavor profile of Jack Link’s lineup of protein snacks. As much as the products have a place in my center console, this brand has a near and dear place in my heart. The Messin’ with Sasquatch campaign is one of the ad campaigns that made me want to get into this line of work.

All I know is there are better beef jerky snacks that I can get at a convenience store between here and vacation, but the brand love tips the scales for me every time. A true testament to the power of influence in marketing. The best product doesn’t always win.

Hidden marketing lesson:

Embrace your wild side, friends. Watch these videos and take notes. Sprinkle a sense of human emotion into your next social video or e-blast. This is how you go from regional gas station favorite to national protein snack leaders.

Lessons are everywhere.

Next time you grab a snack, take a moment to wonder how the brand became so successful and apply some of that genius thinking to your next campaign or sales promotion. Let us know if you need a co-pilot along the way. I’d love to help you hunt down your version of the sasquatch to help you sell more of pretty much anything.

And remember to slow down for the road construction crews hard at work out there.

Watch out for deer,

Cole Thompson

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