Cheetos Ethnography

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  • Ethnography of Tweens and Gatekeepers

    June, 2005


  • Objectives

    What is Tween life about today? Developmental issues that pertain

    to snacking behavior What does Cheetos represent to

    kids? What separates Cheetos from other

    macrosnacks? What is it about Cheetos they love?

    What is the value of Chester to Tweens?

    How do moms think about snacks?

    What is the value of Cheetos to moms?

  • What we Did

    6 ethnographic interviews of Tweens with buddy

    6 interviews with Moms/gatekeepers

    Two geographic locales OC, California Baltimore, MD

    Homework assignment Day in life of me, what

    Cheetos is and is not Tour of room, pantry,

    cupboards, outdoor activities

  • Tweens psycho-social stage

    Key developmental phase creates tension Leaving childhood, beginning adolescence


    ! Separating from parents Attaching to friends Demonstrating skills to succeed in life

    Individuality group affiliation

    Parental attachment

  • Tweens psycho-social stage

    Stage is characterized by Fantasy/imagination vs. real

    world limits Learning individual skills and

    expressing likes vs. accept what is given to them

    Peer group affiliation vs. alone/family

    Clinical name: Individuation and Industry

    Being Industrious and expressing likes involve doing things with others who share similar interests and skills

    (Erik Erikson)

  • Industry

    Building Mastery in life Characterized as world of learning

    appropriate skills Not only physical but psychological

    Testing physical limits => expanding boundaries of self

    Testing limits in videogames (violence, excessive force, smashing things)

    in sports skateboarding, dirt bikes, biking, football

    in food choices, ways of eating foods

  • Individuation

    Tweens build a separate life Separate skills and likes apart from parents,

    siblings Doing things at school parents dont know

    about Enjoying music outside of parents tastes Eating snacks that mom may find unappealing

    For tweens, snacks are their choices, while food equals meals under parental control Parents want you to eat your vegetables Compared to freedom of snacking behavior Cool food = snacks Not cool food = meals (because of parental


  • Attaching to Friends

    Tension between wanting to be like others and wanting to be yourself Normal part of early adolescence

    Sameness is important Safe to be like others

    Who eats Cheetos? Tweens say our friends, kids like us, kids, not old people like our grandparents

    Yet, there is desire to prove oneself against peers Assert uniqueness

    E.g., who is stronger at arm wrestling, who can run the fastest, who can do more tricks on a basketball court

  • Individuation and Industry

    Friends = people like me Shared physical and social skills

    Do the same things, share the same interests

    Specific sports, music, clothes, food, etc. Like same things, share same values

    You can tell a friend and keep a secret. (female tween)

    A friend is always there, goes through things with you. (male tween)

    Authenticity = sameness, apart from parents Cool is what I like and what my friends

    like If everybody thinks its cool, then it is. You

    ask your friends and people who are cool. Snacks that our friends like are usually

    the same as us, but its what they like.

  • Snacks in the Tween world

    Tweens differentiate snacks by functional categories Snacks that require preparation vs. ready to eat

    E.g., Grilled cheese sandwich, Soup at Hand, Bagel Bites vs. chips, cookies, ice pops

    Also means snacks mom makes vs. snacks I get myself

    By time of day eaten Mostly determined by Time bound factors

    E.g., Pop-tarts for breakfast Jello, chips, Twix after school Cookies, popcorn after supper

  • Snacks in the Tween world

    Also differentiate snacks on sensory dimensions Gushers = gumminess, slimy Oreos = creamy middle Popcorn = buttery, salty Pudding = cold, smooth,

    chocolaty Salty vs. sweet are not

    orienting categories Tweens dont divide snacks

    into salty and sweet when choosing what to eat

    They choose by cravings What I feel like now

  • Snacks in the Tween world

    Tweens eat a wide variety of snacks Seeing is a key motivator

    Go into kitchen, check out what we have

    See commercial on TV, see in store Sight inspires desire

    Often crave specific brands If craving for Cheetos and there are

    none to be found, choose something else usually outside chip category

    E.g., ramen noodles, popcorn Cheetos are not replaceable

    Cheetos are recognized as popular Important to tweens Sameness in relation to friends (early


  • Snacks in the Tween world

    Snacks are world of tweens Skill set they actively pursue and

    share with peers Always want to try new snacks

    Actively explore different snacks Notice ads for new snacks on TV Go to store with Mom and check snack

    aisle Observe/sample what other kids bring

    to school Look at newspaper for new snacks

    Experiment with new brands and flavors

    Typically once a month Aware of new Cheetos flavors

    News they spread to friends, schoolmates

  • Why Tweens Like Cheetos

    Tweens perceive world of snacks as a sphere of independence

    Source of mastery, empowerment, their turf Few parental rules about snacking Free to snack on what they like at any time

    Snacks are perfect for demonstrating individuality and sociability

    Cheetos lets them demonstrate individual skills and collective likes

  • Cheetos: Testing Sensory Limits

    Tweens bring total sensory energies to Cheetos

    Eat through heightened sensory acuity Taste

    Cheetos taste is catalyst for challenges Extreme Cheesiness

    Dangerously Cheesy Spicy, Flamin Hot

    Daring the other to hold out Drinking with water so the fire inside

    explodes Inspires cravings

    Tongue drooling for Cheetos Boast in stories about quantity consumed

    Eating multiple bags at one time Parents taking to doctor for eating too much

  • Cheetos: Testing Sensory Limits

    Sight Shapes and texture conjure imagination, fantasy

    Cylinders with bumps Torpedoes Alien

    Exploration and adventure in each Cheetos bag Never know what shape is next Fat or skinny, theyre all different Look at this one, 2 are stuck together, weird shape.

    Smell Aroma evokes long distance acuity

    If somebody opens a bag of Cheetos downstairs, I smell it. smell = feeding frenzy

    Its like a shark attracted to blood.

  • Cheetos: Testing Sensory Limits

    Hear Crunch sound is loud

    Its fun to make noise. Emphasize crunch sound with eating patterns

    E.g., bite off small bits of a Cheetos rapidly like a beaver E.g., put in mouth and use teeth to crunch, crunch, crunch

    Touch Gets messy

    Cheesy fingers, fingers get red Lick em, suck em Gets all over you A lot on your fingers means youve eaten a lot of Cheetos.

  • Eating Cheetos: Total Sensory experience

    Demands full absorption of self in the moment Creates an experiential world, right now activity

    Not a food you simply graze (e.g. chips) Brings heightened awareness of self

    E.g., dont eat Cheetos while doing homework but afterwards when relaxing

    Intensity of being in the moment Authentic self A moment apart from the everyday routine

  • Safe Danger: Power of Cheetos to Tweens

    Cheetos plays with boundaries through extremes -- (tastes, shapes, aromas, sounds) Its not a neat, in-the-box type of snack but is loud, messy, odorous, irregularly shaped,

    textured This is attractive to kids, making it potentially

    dangerous (in a safe way) Danger (matter out of place) is power to kids At least, kids think this, apart from mom

  • Chester as Tween Icon

    Chester is not just aspirational image or badge

    But extension of their selves Same as us

    He likes Cheetos, just like we do He does what we do

    Rides bikes, skateboards, plays basketball, etc.

    Can imagine him interacting with friends, self

    Hed jump on top of the school building and say watch this.

  • Chester as Tween Icon

    Shares their values, extremes, and behavior Cool because hes Crazy/Wacky

    E.g., does skydiving and other Xtreme sports Funny

    The way he talks and acts on ads Ads with ice sculptures and he melts them with

    hot Cheetos breath

  • Chester as Tween Icon

    Imaginative Always invents a new flavor

    Active, on-the-go Always doing something new, like changing

    tongue color to green or purple Authentic, genuine

    Always acts who he is High recall of Chester ads

    Enjoyment of humor Topic of discussion among friends

  • Chester as Tween Icon

    Moms like Chester too Cute character Age appropriate Appealing personality

    Not your average animated character Funny Active Mingles with humans

    Recognize that kids identify with him Hes like the friend every kid wants to have in his


  • Why Moms like Cheetos

    View Cheetos as a good snack Potentially healthy

    Has ingredients they want their kids to eat

    Cheese Corn Complements milk or juice for good