A consumer institute, Center for Digital Democracy, filed a complaint and request for investigation with the FTC on October 19 related to the marketing of Doritos to adolescents.  The complaint cites a research report, Digital Food Marketing to Children & Adolescents, which identifies digital marketing practices that purportedly pose threats to the health of children.  Some of the Doritos marketing campaigns referenced in the complaint won prestigious marketing awards, including the Hotel 626 campaign.     

The complaint alleges that Pepsi’s subsidiary Frito-Lay engaged in deceptive and unfair digital marketing practices in violation of §5 of the FTC Act through a social media marketing campaign (contests, video games, concerts) targeted at teens because: (1) the marketing campaign is disguised as entertainment instead of advertising; (2) Pepsi fails to adequately protect the personal information it collects from teens and it collects personal information from teens without giving meaningful notice and consent; and (3) its use of viral marketing through Facebook and Twitter endorsements by teens violates the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines.  The complaint also alleges that the campaign contains material misrepresentations and omissions because consumption of Doritos harms the health of teens. 

We are following the FTC’s response to this complaint because the arguments made by the complaint could conceivably apply to the use of social media by many large brands.