I have eaten Pringles my entire life. The brand earns my admiration for delivering a tasty product in unique packaging with some really effective marketing and a powerful logo. I grew up eating the original Pringles in the red tube and when the brand went the way of Pop-Tarts and offered a flavor explosion, I branched out and tried those options too.
As a Pringles fan, I became intrigued by a debate that I very recently heard about. It turns out that Procter and Gamble, the parent corporation of Pringles at the time, was extremely invested in a characteristic of the snack: Was the Pringle a potato chip?
This was a high stakes question. In Britain, there is a value-added tax on many goods although most food is exempt…except for one rather specific category: potato chips. In order to avoid a tax on Pringles, Procter and Gamble fought tooth and nail in Britain courts to avoid the label (and tax) be placed on its star snack. Some of P&G’s arguments included that Pringle’s didn’t have the quality of “potatoness” to be considered a potato chip and that since they didn’t resemble the shape of a traditional potato chip they were more of a “savory snack.”
Well, Procter and Gamble ended up losing the battle and Pringles are classified today as potato chips.
My opinion? Well, ask me as a kid and I might agree with Procter and Gamble. In my young age I would probably naturally gravitate toward P&G’s argument that Pringles didn’t resemble an actual potato chip so how could it possibly be one? Besides, as I mentioned earlier, Pringles not only have a different appearance from a potato chip but they are packaged way differently, too. Because everyone knows that potato chips come in bags, right?
But as an adult—and as a marketer myself no less—I am a little more sophisticated when it comes to marketing smoke screens. Although Pringles found a genius way for its snack to standout, whether it is packaged in a tube, bag, or coffin doesn’t persuade me from a pretty obvious fact—it is a potato chip. Might it lack some of the “potatoness” that a Lay’s potato chip contains? Perhaps. But in the same way that generic cookie dough ice cream is still cookie dough ice cream even though it might lack some of the “cookie doughness” of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, it is my belief that a chip with a smaller quantity of “potatoness” from another potato chip product is still a potato chip.
Is the Pringles debate even a question for you? Although it might lack the luster of other popular food questions such as “is a hot dog a sandwich?” or “is it doughnut or donut?” I do think it is worth taking a stance on. Don’t Blink.