Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Look What I Found: Zotes Sunflower Seeds

Sex sells. For all the research and talk of demographics, at least 92% of advertising comes down to this incredibly simple, universally true axiom. The lengths that advertisers will go to in order to exploit it are disturbing and disgusting. The late comedian, philosopher and visionary Bill Hicks claimed that as far as advertisers are concerned the perfect commercial would simply be a beautiful, naked woman touching her vagina, with a “Drink Coke” tacked on at the end. If that strikes you as simply an amusing bit of hyperbole, please take into consideration this ad or this one (these weren’t the most pornographic ads I found, they were the most pornographic AND least sensical). But "sex sells" doesn't need to be crude.

I first discovered Zotes while perusing the bountiful wares at a gas station in Salt Lake City, where the Zotes operation is based, in the land of the Mormons. First, my girlfriend pointed out a bag of their Dill Pickle flavored seeds. Niche flavors of seeds have been popping up for a while; David’s with their Ranch and BBQ varieties. There’s even some Jim Beam sunflower seeds. A dill pickle flavor was promising because pickles are delicious and burst onto the junk food scene in just the past decade with their own potato chips, but it was hardly revolutionary. Ultimately, it was an interesting snack I’d never seen before that I would most likely buy. Then, I saw the bottle, and this item was quickly upgraded to “must own.”

Yes, that’s a lady in a bikini pouring pickle juice and pickles all over herself. I don’t know why she’s doing it, but she seems to enjoy it. I quickly spotted other flavors and it became apparent that Zotes was taking “sex sells” to an absurd extreme.

You could say this packaging is degrading, tasteless and juvenile. But I would just counter that you have very little imagination and no sense of humor. I would also like to point out how classy and wholesome the whole thing looks in spite of a woman drenching in herself in green liquid. Look at that polka dot bikini! It’s harmless Americana.

Can sex really sell anything? If your packaging features scantily clad women in coquettish poses engaging in thoroughly un-sexy food fetish-esque acts, does advertising’s most trusted axiom still hold up? I am proud to say that Zotes is deeply committed to exploring these pressing issues.

In this first encounter I was also introduced to the Hot Wings flavor.

Now, you’re either thinking that this one is tame by comparison, or that the sauce is just far too suggestive. Either way, you’re missing the point. They put a chicken on the label, right above a woman eating a CHICKEN WING! Did they think you would be confused by the phrase "hot wings," or the chicken wing she's holding? Were they afraid you didn't know where hot wings come from? Regardless, they're breaking new ground here.

Upon returning to civilization, I promptly ordered all the remaining flavors from the Zotes, including what I like to refer to as their Mexican Collection. It’s important for a company operating out of the Southwest to cultivate a healthy relationship with the Latino people.

And clearly Zotes has their finger on the pulse of the community. Both packages feature the same sombrero, what I believe to be the same model (who by the way does not appear Latino at all) and they both have food obscuring the view of her apparently bare breasts. The idea of eating nachos naked certainly seems alluring and exotic, even though I’ve done it on my futon numerous times in just the last month. I'm not sure why the tequila is not represented visually, but I’m guessing Zotes thought that two round, juicy limes just worked better as substitute breasts. For the record, I agree.

OK, so those two are a little garish, but surely a flavor as classic as Salt & Pepper deserves something more staid. And that’s what it gets…

Notice that the photo is in black and white. And that she wears sexy, modern underwear with a retro style, accompanied by an old-fashioned hairdo. This is the Zotes you probably want to buy for Grandma.

But Zotes isn't just about recycled Doritos flavors and copious amounts of sodium. They also have flavors for gourmands like myself. The Bleu Cheese for example, which I like to put on salad instead of crumbly bleu.

I love the fact that Zotes doesn't operate within the boring restrictions of reality. When people told them that bleu cheese is not, in fact, Swiss cheese that's been dyed blue, and that no lady in a bikini would lounge in the hole of Swiss cheese (unless she was hooking up with Monterey Jack), and that cheese isn't that big, Zotes proudly said "Fuck that!" And I commend them for it.

Those are all pretty good. And the Roasted & Salted and Jalapeno packages also feature women, albeit in far less noteworthy situations. But nothing competes with Beer Baked. Nothing.

That’s right. She’s bathing. In beer. She’s naked bathing in beer on a package of sunflower seeds. Why is she bathing in beer? Shouldn’t she be baking in it? Even better, she’s actually in a glass of beer. How did she even get in there? Also, judging by the positioning of her right hand, I don't think this is strictly a cleanliness thing.

These would probably seem crass if they weren’t so unbelievably silly and absurd. It’s impossible to take them seriously. They must be a goof. Taking a look at the Zotes website complicates things. It’s not as clever or, I don’t know, as whimsical as the bottles. Their shirts seem a bit frat boy-ish (they say "CRACK 'em" WTF?). Then again, they did announce their new flavors by splaying them across the belly of a pregnant woman. And similar to their treatment of the “sex sells” axiom, they seem to be promoting the idea that their sunflower seeds will make you into a Zotes Man, which I assume is more vital, virile and sophisticated than a normal man.

In case you’re wondering, the sunflower seeds themselves are pretty good if you’re into that kind of thing. The Jalapeno ones are really hot and painfully addicting. The Garlic are particularly delicious. The only ones I would definitely avoid in the future are Tequila Lime (utterly gross) and Beer Baked (although these are worth buying just for the mantle place). My future with Zotes appears to be in peril though, as their online store is not currently functioning and the seeds are no longer available on Amazon. I can only hope they are getting ready to blow my mind in 2010.

It should also be noted that they sold “Energy Seeds” which seem to take the “Energy Everything” fad to its overdue conclusion. I mean, who wants to get jacked up by doing something as laid back as eating sunflower seeds? Full disclosure: I finished the bottle in 15 minutes, and got into four fistfights in the next two hours.

Zotes might not be the best example of applying the "sex sells" thinking to marketing. I mean, they clearly don’t aim to titillate (I hope). But it's the most fun I've had with snack packaging in... well... ever. They're fun, they're confounding, and they're anything but boring. It was more than enough for me to part with $2/bottle. I can only hope that Wasabi-Soy,  Cinnamon-Sugar and Theatre Style Popcorn will make their debut in a fully stocked online store soon.

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13 Responses »

  1. Jeremiah,
    Are these guys out of business?? Phone is disconected and the order page is gone? Wondering if you heard anything since you posted this?
    Thanks,
    Chris

  2. Their website was jacked up when I posted this. I sent an email to them while I was writing to see if they could give me some insight about their awesome products. They never responded. I have a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that Zotes is no more. I asked our intern to look for Zotes in stores on a recent trip to Utah, but he forgot cause he is worthless. He will not be receiving college credit.

    The only cause for optimism is that once before their store dropped down to just a few items, and a few weeks or months later, everything was back. Maybe they're just reorganizing?

    I remember from their bio page that the founders previously started another company, I believe beef jerky. A truly resourceful, inquisitive person (you) would probably try to get in touch with someone there and demand some fucking answers! And then report back here.

  3. Zotes is alive and well. I can get you any seeds you may be interested in. I work directly with the owner and am over the sales for custom packaging. Please let me know what you want and I would be happy to get it to you. :)

  4. Looks like Zotes has gone through some "rebranding". Take a look at InterstateBait:

    http://interstatebait.com/sunflowerseeds.aspx

  5. What happend to Dill Pickle flavor

  6. Quote from Interstate Bait Facebook page:

    "The following flavors will be hitting IB8 in April. Dill Pickle & Wuffalo Bing. If the road is long, the flavor should be, too."

    Zotes is alive and well... sort of.

  7. Paul is semi-correct. Zotes is no longer selling sunflower seeds, but Interstate Bait is. It's not a re-branded Zotes. IB8 was started by the former president of Zotes who wanted to keep the flavors flowing. The corn nuts are amazing and the bloody mary is worth drinking straight from the bottle.

  8. Zotes is still in business and they are great seeds the people they bought it from are retards and zotes are the best seeds I have ever tasted

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