“No debate: Doritos is latest to tie promotion to election” by Chris Woodyard, USA Today

If they get their way, the big winners in the presidential debate Monday night won’t be be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. It will be advertisers who are theming promotions or ads around the election.

The latest is Frito-Lay’s Doritos brand, which is announcing that it is teaming with Rock the Vote for a promotion aimed at encouraging younger people to register to cast ballots in November.

It joins other consumer companies, like convenience store operator 7-Eleven and brewer Anheiser-Busch InBev, in launching carefully-crafted promotions aimed at mindfully walking the tightrope of trying to be edgy and current without offending partisans on either side.

Doritos’ promotion looks to hammer home a “boldest” taste theme by trying to make the case for the blandness of a society where many young adults refuse to vote. The message: “The boldest choice is making a choice.” So parent Frito-Lay is going to give away silver packages of Doritos chips at Rock the Vote rallies or through its website that really aren’t chips at all. The bags contain inedible cardboard pieces that are supposed to send a message to those who refuse to register.

“We wanted to make sure as a brand, we are encouraging bold action,” says Jennifer Saenz, chief marketing officer for Frito-Lay.

In addition, Doritos has an election-themed contest on its website, encouraging consumers to “vote” for either their favorite among two flavors of Doritos chips — Nacho Cheese in the red package or Cool Ranch in the blue.

“We try to engage in popular culture,” Saenz says. The “election lends itself to consumer conversation.”

That conversation has been continuing since the Super Bowl for Anheuser-Busch InBev, which continues to push its ad campaign featuring comedy titans Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen for the “Bud Light Party.” It goes out of its way to avoid offending: “We are the fake political party America needs right now. A party for everyone,” the beer announces on its website.

Following its Super Bowl ad debut, the campaign has extended to a 13-city concert tour — or in this case, “conventions” — featuring big-name rappers like Nelly and Ludacris.

7-Eleven is encouraging coffee buyers to vote with their cup — blue for Democrat, red for Republican and purple for any issue they want to bring up (Photo: 7-Eleven)

And there’s convenience store chain 7-Eleven, which is offering to let customers vote Republican or Democratic with their coffee cups for the fifth consecutive presidential election. Laura Gordon, 7-Eleven’s vice president of marketing, says the cup promotion has correctly picked the president every time.

As of Friday, the vote was tied at 30% for the Democrats (blue) and the Republicans (red). The big winner so far this year, is a new choice, the purple “Speak Up Cup” for write-in candidates or issues.

“Coffee is something we sell every day and we sell a lot of it,” making it an ideal vehicle for voting with cups. She says past elections have garnered 6 million cups and this year is on track for 8 million. What will it take to tip the scales?

“We’re very interested to see what happens on the debate stage,” Gordon says.

Follow Chris Woodyard on Twitter: @ChrisWoodyard.