Original Prongles, a wart hog-emblazoned brand of chips in a very familiar cylindrical can was released this past week as something of a social media mystery. Who was behind such this fun, zesty, delicious-verging-on-copyright infringing snack? Internet sleuths eventually figured out the strange minds behind the game Cards Against Humanity released the Pringles knockoffs as a Black Friday marketing ploy. But more than just a stunt, it’s an elaborate joke that took nearly two years (and probably a good amount of money) to come to chip fulfillment.
“The setup of the joke is for Black Friday, the most commercial and business-y day of the year, we make the worst possible business decision,” Prongles Chief Flavor Officer and CAH co-creator Max Temkin told The Takeout. “The secret that makes it work is that we worked harder on this than anyone would reasonably expect.”
That includes hiring 45 Irving, the brand design unit within marketing agency Digitas, to research the competitive chip landscape and create the look and feel of Prongles. The firm photographed every chip brand they could find in stores, analyzed the marketplace, and eventually developed the bodacious hog cartoon that so tactfully graces each Prongles can.
“We had the idea that we’d have an extreme mascot, like a chip eating other chips. But the Digitas team came up with the idea of the hog because their research showed that hogs are one of the only animals that would eat potatoes,” Temkin says. “It’s just so wrong. It’s like every choice was just wrong wrong wrong wrong.”
Embracing the wrong and the weird are what made Cards Against Humanity an indie gaming sensation when it launched, so why not the same for Prongles? Existing inventory has already sold out, and two Prongles tubes are going for $30 on eBay. Temkin says the Prongles team is currently in discussions about whether to continue producing them.
All jokes aside, though, Temkin says the process of bringing Prongles to market actually reveals how crowded the chip and snack aisle is. Unlike indie games, which thrive on internet sales, snack foods actually have to fight for shelf space if they’re going to reach consumers.
“If you’re making a new chip, what do you do to make it different from the 600 other new chips on the shelf? Everything has a very flat design. They’re all about natural ingredients,” Temkin tells The Takeout. “The feedback we kept giving [the branding agency] was like ‘more extreme, more extreme.’ We need to make this an alternate world where chips are like breakfast cereals of the ’90s, with cartoon animal mascots.”
But what about, you know, how figuring out how the chips should actually taste?
“The hardest part is coming up with a tasty chip that people want to eat, but luckily we didn’t have to do that because we just ripped off Pringles.”