Like many Metro Detroiters, Mark Winkelman remembers eating Better Made chips when he was a kid. Having that bag of crunchy, golden potato chips in your lunch made you a kind of super star – and the best part was eating every last crumb in the bottom of the bag.
Those memories that evoke a sense of where you were, what you were doing and the sights, sounds and smells of that moment are what makes food memories so strong. And Better Made, the snack-foods manufacturer that Winkelman leads as president, is collecting those stories for a new series of advertisements for the company.
The Detroit-based company is asking fans to tell them about what parts of their life are just a little more special with Better Made snacks. As part of its “Life Better Made” campaign, customers are asked to submit photos or a short video (15 to 45 seconds) or photo of what makes your #LifeBetterMade, and it could be featured on the company’s website and social media.
The video series entitled “Life Better Made” kicked off recently with a short film by Detroit film producer Herman Jenkins of Flysho Films to bring the concept to life. Better Made representatives said they were impressed that Jenkins came up with the concept on his own and produced six original films to create the campaign. The company is excited about the partnership and where the program will go as customers start to submit their own stories.
The video now featured tells the story of a Metro Detroit baseball team and its hard work, struggle and dedication to the sport. Their sweat and tears are balanced by the joy of the game – and the Better Made Original chips in its iconic yellow-and-red bag are a big part of that.
“The videos we currently have at our site show how people are living Life Better Made, and now it’s your turn,” Winkelman said. “We’re looking forward to seeing the videos and photos that our loyal customers submit. And the good thing is, they don’t have to be professionally produced. Just show us how you enjoy life with Better Made.”
Better Made’s story is reflective of the story of Detroit – a small place that started with immigrants and grew into a thriving enterprise. Better Made was founded in 1930 by two Sicilian friends – Cross Moceri and Pete Cipriano. Moceri was a salesman working for another chip company (Best Maid turned New Era) when he decided he wanted to start his own company, as the old story goes.
Cipriano joined his friend at the company; he formerly was a milkman in the city, delivering fresh products to households across the city. Together, the two grew the company to include a variety of chip flavors, including the legendary Sour Cream and Onion as well as the beloved Barbecue.
The Cipriano family now runs the company along with Winkelman and his team of marketing, snack and sales experts. A third and fourth generation of family members work there at the factory in Detroit along Gratiot Avenue. All of the chips, popcorn and potato sticks are produced there, and you can see the products being made from the iconic front windows.
As Jenkins tells it, the “Life Better Made” project came together organically; it grew out of his everyday interactions with people in all walks of life. He thought of the original jingle while eating a bag of Better Made chips and recorded it into his smartphone. The song was inspired by the phrase “Better Made Quality,” which is on most of the company’s products.
The opportunity to share the song and the rest of his work with Better Made came a little over a year later thanks to a chance encounter.
“It’s funny how it happened,” Jenkins said. “My daughter had a project due in school, and she waited until the last minute to finish it. So I dropped into CVS to get some glue for her, and I saw a guy in the store stacking Better Made chips in its display. Turns out he’s a district sales manager for the company.”
The guy in question was Dion Altadonna, and he gave Jenkins his card. The two communicated, and Altadonna told Jenkins he would send his work along to Better Made’s President Mark Winkelman. That is when Jenkins had what one might call a panic attack.
Sending in a jingle he recorded on his cell phone while he was “laying back, chilling and eating chips” might not make the best first impression, the veteran filmmaker said. So he contacted a friend he coincidently met on a flight years ago; together, they turned the old recording into a full-fledged song. Then, Jenkins set up a video to go with the song, layering in images of his kids, fun family times and people eating chips.
So when Better Made’s Winkleman asked to see Jenkins’ work, curious about what he had to offer, he had a complete package to show. The rest, as they say, is history.
“It’s been an amazing sequent of events that lead to this,” Jenkins said. “It’s a representation of the true emotional connection that I feel Detroiters have with Better Made, whether they know it or not. It’s a fixture in schools. It’s a choice they make when they walk into a store. It’s part of the fabric of life and the culture here.”
Jenkins captured with his videos – there are a little more than a dozen already in the can and more planned – is the legacy of this company and its products.
“I wanted to show not only what Better Made means to this community but parallel it to what makes people’s everyday lives special,” Jenkins said. “Those were the two ideals: The experience of the chips and the company but also of what is unique and special in our lives.”
It’s been an unscripted process, and Jenkins said he has enjoyed every part of it. He’s talked to longtime Better Made employees – guys that retired years ago but still come into the company on a monthly if not weekly basis to say hello. He’s talked to the fry cooks, the baggers, the store managers. They’ve all told their stories.
“We’re trying to capture multiple layers of what this brand means,” Jenkins said.
(Full disclosure: I wrote a book about the company and its history called “Better Made in Michigan: The Salty Story of Detroit’s Best Chip,” published by The History Press. And, yes, Better Made is my favorite chip.)