Four consumer and privacy groups accused PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay, of being deceptive in advertising to teenagers by creating gaming and other promotions that are not labeled as ads, and asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.
The groups complained in particular about two online promotions—"Hotel 626" and "Doritos Rihanna Late Night."
In "Hotel 626," players are asked to give Pepsico access to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. They are also required to buy a bag of Doritos to use the infrared marker on the back to see the ending, according to the complaint filed to the FTC by the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog and The Praxis Project.
The advertising in Hotel 626 and others like it were deceptive, the groups contend, in that PepsiCo failed to identify it as advertising and aimed it at teenagers.
They also argued that the company claimed to protect teen's privacy, while collecting data on them without getting consent.
"Frito-Lay uses a variety of techniques to make its marketing seem like entertainment," the groups said in their complaint. "Frito-Lay deliberately disguises its advertisements as entertainment because it knows this will make teenagers more likely to purchase Doritos."
"The FTC has received the complaint and will review it carefully," said FTC spokeswoman Betsy Lordan.
Frito-Lay and PepsiCo were not immediately available for comment.
A working group, which includes the FTC, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agriculture Department, are mulling voluntary guidelines for advertising junk food to children and recently indicated that tough, preliminary guidelines would be eased.
The original proposal was for a voluntary ban on ads to people aged 17 and under unless the advertised food promoted healthy fare, such as whole grains, fresh fruits or vegetables.
But the FTC indicated it was likely to reduce the affected age to 11 and under while the Agriculture Department indicated that it was likely to ease off its nutritional standards and replace them with the industry's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).