The Story Behind Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Marketing

Aug 6, 2019

Lots of people assume that the best marketing ideas can only come from professional marketers. The reality is, everybody has a marketing background. Not everyone may have the skills or experience to lead a successful rebrand or run a content marketing campaign. But we’re all customers. We’re all part of various audiences and demographics.

There’s perhaps no better example of that than the man behind Flamin’ Hot Cheetos — Richard Montañez.

‘Act Like an Owner’

Frito-Lay CEO Roger Enrico made a company-wide announcement in the early 90s encouraging all employees to “act like owners.” Montañez, a janitor at a Frito-Lay’s plant near Los Angeles, took this advice to heart.

Montañez noticed a shelf of Frito-Lay snacks placed directly next to a shelf of spices at his local grocery store. He realized none of the snacks were spicy. Later, he ordered elote – Mexican street corn smothered in chili powder, cheese and lime. It gave him the idea to add chili to a Cheeto.

When an assembly line machine broke down one day at the plant, Montañez seized the opportunity and took home a few unflavored Cheetos.

In his home kitchen, he made a prototype batch of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and tested them among his friends and coworkers. They were a huge hit. So he looked up “CEO” in the company directory and called Enrico. The CEO was smart enough to recognize the potential. He told Montañez to prepare a presentation for himself and the other executives. Montañez’s prep for the meeting included visiting his local library for a book on building a sales and marketing strategy.

Richard Montanez Makes His Pitch

Two weeks later, with little self-confidence and a $3 tie, Montañez presented his spicy product. He brought samples with packaging and a logo he designed himself. The CEO was impressed and told Montañez, “put that mop away, you’re coming with us.”

The rest is Flamin’ Hot history. The product has become a beloved multicultural snack and the inspiration for viral videos and Katie Perry’s wardrobe. Richard Montañez has gone on to become the “godfather of Hispanic branding” and is currently the Vice President of Multicultural Sales & Community Promotions across PepsiCo’s North American divisions. There’s a Richard Montañez movie in the works. 

Long Story Short: The best marketing ideas can come from anyone with a smart insight into what a particular audience values and where current offerings are coming up short. Don’t overlook any voice with a unique perspective.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alice Marshall.

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