Frito Lay’s star player

It's not easy being in the business of selling salty snacks these days. But don't tell Dale Hooper that. Mississauga, Ont.-based Frito Lay Canada's VP of brand marketing has managed to stick-handle his snacks through the health concerns related to our nation's growing girth, while forging uniquely Canadian brand connections and upping the cool factor.

It’s not easy being in the business of selling salty snacks these days. But don’t tell Dale Hooper that. Mississauga, Ont.-based Frito Lay Canada’s VP of brand marketing has managed to stick-handle his snacks through the health concerns related to our nation’s growing girth, while forging uniquely Canadian brand connections and upping the cool factor.

Hooper, 37, is a natural leader – he knows how to get the right people, and how to get the most out of them. This year, his team won the Donald M. Kendall award, an internal prize that goes to the number-one Frito Lay division in the world, based on performance in the last three years.

Hooper’s ability to recognize and jump on emerging trends early no doubt contributes to his success. Perhaps most significantly, while many fatty food manufacturers were announcing that their products would eliminate trans-fats within the next few years, all of Hooper’s brands, including Lay’s, Doritos, Tostitos, Fritos and Ruffles were trans-fat free by July of last year. ‘It was nothing short of a rapid-fire turnaround,’ notes Capital C CEO Tony Chapman, who consults for Frito Lay. ‘It’s done wonders for the company.’

While Lay’s chips were already produced in trans-fat-free cotton oil, Hooper wanted to take them to the next level and earn the lucrative ‘trans-fat free’ label by switching to sunflower oil and reducing saturated fat content by 60%. ‘He’s an early adopter of something that’s been brewing in the company [PepsiCo] for a while now,’ says Stephanie Nerlich, account manager at Hooper’s ad agency BBDO Toronto. ‘He really pushed it forward.’

But Hooper didn’t do it alone. One success during his two years as VP brand marketing (he was director of marketing before that) has been to build three solid teams to work on his multiple brands with varying targets – from youth (Doritos) to women (Tostitos) to men (Fritos) to families (Lay’s). Perhaps the fact he grew up playing hockey and basketball in Calgary, and later majored in sports marketing at Laurentian University in Sudbury, had an impact on his squad mentality. He currently leads a staff of 23. ‘Dale has an uncanny ability to recruit top talent,’ notes Nerlich.

Hooper aspires to make his department attractive to the country’s top marketers by fostering collaboration and creativity. Nerlich describes Hooper as easygoing and fun to work with, noting that he encourages after-hours outings with staff and agency partners to complement the working relationships: ‘He believes all work and no play makes Dale a very

dull boy.’

He also makes a point of putting the right people in charge of the right brand. For instance, Hooper’s Doritos team is young, hip and in touch with their target – males and females 12-29. In February, the brand launched its ‘Emerging Artists’ promotion with MuchMusic, which features a page on MuchMusic’s Web site spotlighting hot new bands like Canadian indie darling Magneta Lane and British sensation Athlete. MuchMusic helps the Doritos team find the latest ‘it’ bands before they hit it big.

Recognizing that music is an integral part of life for the youth demographic, Hooper says the program reinforces Doritos’ identity as a pioneer – just as it introduced Guacamole Doritos to the world, it is introducing hot new bands.

Last month the brand sponsored the Doritos Fan Choice Award at the Junos for the third year in a row. The promotion was originally Hooper’s idea – he wanted to get involved with the Junos to reinforce Doritos’ image as a young, social brand associated with Canadian music. He aimed to have Doritos offer something unique to the consumer, so he created a ‘money-can’t-buy’ experience: the opportunity for a fan to present an award to a big-name star like Avril Lavigne or Nickelback. He pitched the idea to CTV and the Canadian Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), and they signed on.

‘Dale was instrumental in getting [the partners] to really focus on what would be magical for the consumer,’ says Chapman. ‘If it’s magical for the consumer, that translates into higher ratings for CTV, more exposure for CARAS and more exposure for Doritos. That’s the mark of a really great leader.’

Partnering with the Junos is just one part of Hooper’s focused efforts to make his brands relevant to Canadians. In 2003, Frito Lay introduced the ‘Taste of Canada’ campaign, which asked Canadians to vote for the uniquely Canadian Lay’s chip flavours they would like to see, resulting in new ones like Quebec Four Cheese and Wild Stampede BBQ. Hooper is also careful to choose promotional partners that have strong Canadian identities, like Hockey Canada. And, Lay’s boasts a Canadian icon for a spokesperson – hockey player Mark Messier.

But the key to Hooper’s success, according to colleagues, is his leadership. He helps his teams forge solid partnerships to build their brands, and is an upbeat, approachable team player. He doesn’t just shout orders from the sidelines – he’s part of the game. Says Chapman: ‘He’s an outstanding leader because he listens generously, and he knows how to connect with you, whether you’re working a Frito Lay route [as a driver] or you’re his boss’s boss.’

5 Questions

Favourite movie: Any John Hughes movie. His movies from the 1980s

are brilliant.

Favourite TV commercial of all time: It’s actually not one commercial. I think the best campaign has been Tim Hortons. They’ve done two things. They’ve found a way to make themselves Canadian, and at the same time they’ve done the best job at changing Canadians’ behaviour over the last 20 years.

They’re the ones who made getting coffee every morning through the drive-thru [appealing]. Now they’re working on lunch. They’re just brilliant marketers. At the same time they’ve made themselves Canadian icons. I love their ‘Roll Up the Rim’ campaign.

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase: Pathfinder. It wasn’t just one ad, it was a great campaign – it made me go and look at it.

First job: I cleaned golf clubs at Earl Grey golf course [in Calgary]. I was 13. It paid $3 an hour.

Favourite way to unwind: Playing with my two-year-old, Jake.