The invitation to the Cheez-It bunker was not sent, precisely, to me. It was sent to Vox culture editor Jen Trolio and then forwarded through several other editors at this website and then turned up in my inbox with a question mark. It was up to me whether I pursued the experience of a Cheez-It bunker.
I’m an American, so I’ll try any new form of entertainment once. Even a bunker full of a new type of Cheez-It set up by a bunch of hard-working professionals, because brands simply cannot launch new products anymore without someone bending over backward to create the most bizarre Instagrammable “experience” possible. So I emailed the PR person who had sent the original email, saying I’d heard about the bunker from a colleague and would like to see it. She was thrilled.
“We have a fun idea on how to take you to the bunker,” she wrote. “We were thinking of ordering you an Uber and one of our team members would be in the car with you, to then put a blindfold on to take you to the secret location.”
A year’s supply of cheesy, munchable Cheez-It SNAP’d has been stockpiled away in a bunker for safe keeping. Follow the clues starting 5/14 and the stash could be yours. #SNAPdSearch (Rules: https://t.co/AUdPzk4aS9) pic.twitter.com/G6YyRSx5HR— CHEEZ-IT (@cheezit) May 7, 2019
She clarified: “You would then get to take off the blindfold to experience the bunker.”
I wrote back that it would be easier if I were just provided with the address of the Cheez-It bunker and allowed to arrive there via subway, alone, eyes open. Easier for everyone, I thought, because as much as I didn’t want to be blindfolded on the way to a bunker full of Cheez-Its as part of my job, I also wouldn’t really want to be the publicist assigned to sit in a car with a blindfolded person for however many minutes, up to and including the minute in which the person barfed from motion sickness.
The publicist responded, “Totally understandable!” and provided me with an address. She asked that I keep the location secret “until a lucky winner finds the bunker,” which would be on Friday, May 17, following the release of a series of Twitter clues. I agreed.
When I arrived at the address provided, I found myself at the back door to the kitchen of a “hip, under-the-radar nook for creative sandwiches and salads” and beet lattes, according to the specials board. I did not find a Cheez-It bunker. There were no stairs down, only up, and the door in front of the stairs was locked. Outside, it was raining. In front of the Reformation store across the street, I could see a young couple sticking their hands in each other’s butt pockets and I did not feel good will toward them. My problem.
The Cheez-It publicist called me and asked me to step outside and maybe wave so that she could find me, which I did. On the way out the door, I tripped a little bit on a dog (pictured).
The publicist, who was very nice and professional and thanked me for coming to her Cheez-It bunker, escorted me to a different door further down the side of the large building. This one led us down into a basement, past the entrance to a nail salon and massage parlor, and into a long white room full of Cheez-Its.
Specifically, the room was full of large bags of the Kellogg Company’s latest Cheez-It product, which is called Snap’d. As in, “she snapped!” which is something people say when their favorite celebrities do something really bold and inspiring. Just kidding! As in, “snap,” the noise the thin and crispy chip-sized Cheez-Its make when you bite them. They come in four flavors: Double Cheese, Jalapeno Jack, Cheddar Sour Cream & Onion, and White Cheddar & Bacon.
The publicist explained to me that the first person to discover the bunker would receive everything in it, including a year’s supply of Cheez-It Snap’d, defined as one bag per day, so 365 bags total, delivered to their apartment in New York City in an Uber (or several, but all at once). The bunker also contained a large white bathtub, a living room set of sleek white furniture, a bunch of gold cheese graters, and literally thousands of dollars worth of electronics including Cheez-It-branded Fujifilm instant cameras, Cheez-It-branded Polaroid instant cameras, and a 50-inch television. (The winner would receive the electronics but not the furniture, which was rented.)
“Why a bunker?” Sadie Garcia, senior brand manager at Kellogg, repeated back to me after I got done wandering around the bunker and asked. “The product is made with real cheese, like all of our Cheez-It products. It’s got real cheese on the outside. When you think about how munchable it is and how much you want to get into a bag and eat it all, and then the amount of cheese we have in there, basically you end up in a situation, hypothetically, where we could end up with a bit of a cheese shortage on our hands,” she answered.
“The idea of the bunker is that for the biggest fans of Cheez-It — those people who really can’t get enough of Snap’d — we’ve hidden a year’s supply down here. So that if we do run out of cheese, there’s Snap’d available for the biggest fans of Cheez-It. That’s the idea behind the bunker.”
Together, the team explained that clues would be released on Twitter throughout the week. Most of the replies to the tweets about the scavenger hunt are comments about how there should be Cheez-It bunkers in all cities, not just New York, which seems unfair to expect.
The clues — namely a set of emoji and an “eye puzzle” — would lead Cheez-It fans to a brand activation near the bunker on Friday, where they would participate in a “pressure-tile dance activity” similar to the video game Dance Dance Revolution, and whoever was triumphant there would receive a key and address to the bunker, blocks away. Only that first person would win a year’s supply of Snap’d and the various other items in the bunker, but anybody would be welcome to come into the bunker and take photos in there and eat some snacks (30 people at a time max, because of fire codes).
Obviously I became obsessed with how this particular bunker — just a stretch of basement, if we’re being honest — was selected to be the Cheez-It bunker. The location scout also considered a bank vault, I was told, but this basement had white walls already and, as such, matched the desired Cheez-It bunker aesthetic. The team also briefly considered several other basements, some wine cellars, and a cheese cave.
“You can rent a bank vault?” I asked, surprised, and everyone laughed at me. Yeah, you can. Do I know what a cheese cave is? Yes, I do, because a woman in my book club is or was dating a man who works in one, so I didn’t have to embarrass myself again by asking that.
The goal of the bunker, Garcia explained, is to get the word out about “this new product from Cheez-It that’s totally different from the Cheez-Its that we have out there today,” and “the fact that it’s super munchable and thin and crispy.” The second goal is to link “back to this idea of potentially running out of cheese.” (As of January 2019 there was a reported 1.4 billion pound surplus of cheese in the US. But who knows what may happen? We really ought to prepare for all scenarios!)
When I asked her about the darker connotations of bunkers and end-of-times cults in recent popular culture — 10 Cloverfield Lane, Under the Silver Lake, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt very famously — she emphasized that this campaign is light-hearted and not that. The bunker is self-explanatory, really. It’s a brand activation in a nearly post-brand-activation moment in time. It’s absolutely anything that a creative team could think of that hadn’t exactly been done before and might be worthy of attention, which I am giving it because it really was an impressive effort and Cheez-Its are a pretty decent snack.
On my way out of the bunker, I was given a red Cheez-It Snap’d tote bag full of Cheez-It Snap’d, which I accepted because it would have been uncomfortable not to, and because I thought it might make me slightly more popular with my coworkers if I invited them to stop working for 10 minutes and try all the Cheez-It Snap’d flavors. It didn’t immediately occur to me that carrying a Cheez-It-branded tote bag absolutely overflowing with Cheez-Its onto the downtown R train (another clue for you) would be, like, not a super cool look. Luckily, the train was mostly empty and the Cheez-Its got their own seat (pictured).
Back at the office, my editor alerted several hundred people via Slack that there were four bags of Cheez-It Snap’d that needed sampling. Men materialized immediately, as though up from the carpet itself.
They gave me all kinds of useful sound bites, such as, “These are upsettingly delicious,” and, “There are 1,000 calories in a bag.” (Remember that the contest allots one bag per day for a year, which means half of a lucky winner’s recommended daily calories will be spent on Cheez-Its every day for one year, unless they have a party and disperse some Cheez-Its to other people, as Garcia did suggest would be a smart solution in case 365 bags of Cheez-Its don’t comfortably fit into the winner’s apartment long-term, another real estate matter I was vocally worried about.)
Some of my coworkers compared the Cheez-Its to Pop Chips and others to Baked Lays. The Verge reviews editor Dan Seifert became visibly and perhaps disproportionately upset by the bags’ expiration date, which was December 2019. It’s not really a year’s supply of Cheez-Its if you have to eat them before December, a mere seven months from now, he pointed out.
“If I were running this contest, I’d give the winner 365 coupons for one Cheez-It bag each, so they can go get their Cheez-Its at the pace they decide,” he added.
The taste test also led SB Nation video producer Seth Rosenthal to share a “fun fact” about himself, which was that he has a Tumblr. And on that Tumblr, he has a journal entry describing how he tweeted about Cheez-Its so many times in the year 2013 that Kellogg sent him a huge treasure chest full of a product called Cheez-It Grooves — “The best of Cheez-It and a chip in one,” according to the chest’s lid.
This description also seems like it would apply to Cheez-It Snap’d, which might explain why, if you search for Cheez-It Grooves in Google Search in 2019 and click on the first result, which is the official page Cheez-It® Grooves™ | Darn Right it’s a Chip | CheezIt.com, you will be automatically redirected to the official page for Cheez-It Snap’d.
“These were not as good as Cheez-Its, but they were good,” Seth said of the modern-day Cheez-It chip. He felt the same when he tried the other Cheez-It chip six years ago, according to his blog.
So if there are two things we can say almost for sure, it’s that no innovation (Cheez-It-wise) is as good as a classic Cheez-It. And also that some lucky winner is going to have to invite a lot of people over this weekend to help them eat 365,000 calories worth of Cheez-Its.
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