How Cheetos and Amazon Ads showed customers the future of home snacking: The Hands-Free House at SXSW

November 28, 2022 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter

Alexa with a disk player on a table

Imagine a world where you can eat a bag of Cheetos and go about your day—stream some shows, cook a meal, even throw a party—and keep your house free of that delicious orange dust (technical term: Cheetle). No cheesy smudges on the appliances. No fingerprints on the remotes. It sounds like something out of the snacking future. But at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual tech, film, media, and music festival in Austin, Texas, Cheetos and Amazon Ads made this fantasy a reality by constructing an actual hands-free house powered by Alexa.

Guests begin their experience of the Cheetos Hands-Free house through tech-enabled entry.

Upon tech-enabled entry, guests were able to hang out in the Cheetos Hands-Free House and enjoy a number of activities—while keeping their Cheetle-dusted fingers from leaving orange smudges all over the place. If they wanted to hop on the couch and watch a film, they just asked Alexa to “Start movie night.” Guests could head to the kitchen where, with the wave of a palm, the oven would make Cheetos mozzarella sticks. They could check out the lounge and play music using voice controls, then make an appearance in the backyard for a Cheetos-themed party (complete with cocktails using the beloved snack).

In the lounge, guests can ask Alexa to "Start movie night."

“Every room in the house was carefully designed to showcase how technology can be used to power everyday activities that normally require two hands,” said Melody Macaluso, marketing director at PepsiCo. “For Cheetos fans, the iconic orange dust—or Cheetle—on your fingertips is a badge of savory honor. But it also can be a tricky situation when swiping left on your phone, squeezing in a quick snack while driving to your next meeting, or using the vacuum to clean up your evidence.”

In the kitchen, guests are served Cheetos mozzarella sticks with the wave of a hand.

The idea for the Cheetos Hands-Free House came together with the “mischievous notion” that maybe hands-free technology was invented just so people wouldn’t get Cheetle-covered fingerprints everywhere, Macaluso said. With this concept in mind, Cheetos wanted to create an immersive, authentic experience to connect with consumers. The brand approached the Amazon Ads Brand Innovation Lab to help bring the idea to life.

“They were very much wanting to drive awareness,” said Shana Weber, a solutions manager at Amazon Ads. “That was one of the reasons they came to us. The Amazon Alexa team was able to help build on the idea to make it a full Amazon tech house.”

Weber’s favorite part of the house was Chester’s Den, named for the snack’s longtime mascot, where a voice message would play and invite the guest to a party. “When that voice trigger happened, the den turned itself into a party room with disco lights and music and a bar,” she said.

In Chester’s Den, named for the snack’s longtime mascot, a voice message invites guests to a party.

All buzz, no orange smudges

As the brand had hoped, the Cheetos Hands-Free House became a buzzy destination for guests at SXSW. Throughout the four-day immersive event, the house had a line around the block with wait times of up to two to three hours to enter Chester’s high-tech snacking home.

And the event was successful in connecting with customers. The experience exceeded attendance goals by 18% and helped garner 1.1 billion earned media impressions.1 From social media chatter to press coverage, the Cheetos Hands-Free House delighted SXSW guests.

“In-person experiences allow the brand to connect one-on-one with our biggest fans, reinforce our brand equity, and immerse in relevant cultural events keeping us modern and fresh,” Macaluso said. “Working with an amazing collaborator like Amazon Ads brought resources, creativity, and credibility to this Cheetos campaign.”

And, for guests who couldn’t be at SXSW in person, Amazon Ads created a virtual experience with a landing page on Amazon that allowed users to explore the house online with a 360-degree view. The virtual tour let users walk through the Hands-Free House and interact with points that demonstrate the Alexa technology and the Cheetos brand story.

“This was our first foray into virtual reality. I really like that everything in the virtual tour is shoppable,” Weber said. “You can experience the actual activations.”

Macaluso said the experiential marketing campaign as a whole was a hit with Cheetos fans.

“Consumers loved the sleekness of the experience with all the touches of Cheetle and Chester surprises they encountered in the Hands-Free House,” Macaluso said. “Cheetos is very pleased with the campaign. The Hands-Free House was the perfect expression of the mythical powers of Cheetle.”

So, go ahead and get Cheetle on your fingers. You don’t have to worry about touching a thing.

1 Advertiser-provided data, 2022