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How Is Leadership Like The Doritos Super Bowl Ad?

The following is a guest post by Jason Monaghan.

Doritos and effective leadership. Not an easy combination to draw a lesson from, right?

You might be surprised.

If you watched the Doritos commercial during the Super Bowl then you realize that their ingenious use of language and video led you to an engaging conclusion: that Doritos are better than, well, most things. We can learn a valuable lesson about effective leadership through their messaging and how it translates to everyday life.

Leadership is much like the techniques used in Doritos’ Super Bowl commercial. Effective leadership is the process of developing a space where people can use their creativity to fill in the blanks and develop new products and services for the market. You provide the vision and the team collaborates to drive that vision home. The Doritos Ad campaign accomplished this in the following three ways:

1. They looked for the talent in their people
In the video of the dog burying the tags and bribing the owner with a bag of chips, the Doritos brand didn’t direct the audience to decide who to side with, they were given the freedom to enjoy the irony of the situation. (And depending on whom you are, your opinion on who to side with might differ!) Effective leaders do the same. They look for the talent in their people and give them the environment – a playbook, if you will – that will help them create ideas that can move their brand forward. They don’t coerce, they coax.

2. They offered an opportunity to those who show initiative and have what resonates with others
Excellent leadership gives new opportunities to people who will run with the ball. Envision the brainstorming session where the idea for this commercial was first initiated, and the risk that was involved with developing this idea. It risks (and will probably get) a backlash from animal lovers, PETA, or child safety activists (for the slingshot baby ad) who will take the comedy out of the situation and drive the message way too far out of context.

While some would have shut down this idea because of the typical reservations of safe advertising, Doritos trusted that their people would have the skill to spectacularly succeed with this multi-million dollar advertising spot. Likewise, if your staff has a successful idea, then let them push the limits of comfort. Their passion and drive will create a work environment of even more innovation and creativity. Don’t throw a flag when someone has an idea that could resonate with others.

3. They remained engaged with their followers to understand them better and give them what they want
A key part of the Doritos ad is their understanding of the audience, which they use to their full advantage. Doritos understands that their target audience is not a high-brow connoisseur that requires distinction and refinement. They also have placed a number of other ads in a viral environment to test the ideas that resonated most effectively with their audience to determine the ad they chose.

This level of engagement is exactly what a true leader should seek. Knowing your people well enough to speak to them in their language, and giving them what they want while still accomplishing your goals puts you at the top of your game – just like Doritos Super Bowl ads.

Sure, the Doritos commercial is a lot of fun to watch, but there are some real leadership lessons to take away from it. By coaxing your team to understand your vision, letting them run with it and staying in touch with your audience, you can win in the marketplace.

This guest post was provided by Jason Monaghan with University of Notre Dame Executive Online Education. Jason works with the faculty and staff at Notre Dame Online to develop skill sets for the leaders of tomorrow in Negotiations, Leadership and Management and Business Administration.

Some other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Leadership Biz Cafe Podcast #4 – CEO Dave Balter on Humility in Leadership
  2. A Springtime Reminder on Leadership, Communication, and Collaboration
  3. Leadership Biz Cafe Podcast #5 – Marlene Chism on Stopping Workplace Drama
  4. 3 Leadership Lessons To Keep Your Organization From Running Aground
  5. Is Leadership an Art or a Science?
  6. Do You Lead Your Organization To Meet Or Exceed Expectations?


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