Pepsi has had varied success over the past few years releasing "Limited Edition" line extensions of their leading brands. In fact, just this summer they launched two limited-time beverages: Sierra Mist Lemon Squeeze and Pepsi Summer Mix.
For some reason, Pepsi has been more adventurous in this area of part-time drinks. I haven't seen much activity from Coke since they experimented with the yearly versions of Sprite Remix (Sprite Remix Tropical, Sprite Remix Berryclear, and Sprite Remix Aruba Jam). Apparently, Pepsi has been having some success with this promotional strategy, otherwise they would have pulled the plug on the practice a long time ago.
The latest addition to this initiative is Mountain Dew Game Fuel, described as "Dew with an invigorating blast of citrus cherry flavor." Limited Edition spinoffs are nothing new for the Mountain Dew brand. It's probably had more than any other PepsiCo product, including such targeted-purpose beverages as Mountain Dew Pitch Black (Halloween 2004), Mountain Dew Pitch Black II (Halloween 2005), Mountain Dew LiveWire (Summer 2003, eventually becoming a standard product in Summer 2004), and Mountain Dew Baja Blast (Summer 2004 to present, however only available at Taco Bell). The Dew brand has also been used to push new products into the energy drink category, such as AMP from Mountain Dew and Mountain Dew MDX.
In the case of Game Fuel, Pepsi took another interesting approach. First of all, they have used the "Game Fuel" brand previously to describe the flagship Mountain Dew flavor at conventions for video game players. Dew is often characterized for its higher caffeine content, which fit in line with the marketing goals of those promoting to this demographic. When Mountain Dew Game Fuel was announced in April 2007, the tie-in to the gaming industry was pushed even further.
You see, in this case, the drink was not only intentionally targeted at gamers, but also co-branded to promote a game for Microsoft's Xbox 360 console, Halo 3 (which is slated for release September 2007). I'm not sure how much Bill Gates and his pals paid off Pepsi for this type of product placement, but it's very blatant. The main character from Halo 3, Master Chief, is featured prominently on the packaging, along with the Halo 3 logo.
The logo and branding of Dew itself absorbs the colors and graphical styles found in the game, highlighting an orange/light blue color scheme, accented by quite a bit of silver and black. According to the folks at Pepsi, this is the first soft drink "created for and co-branded with a video game." I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. It's not the first time Dew has been used to promote something else. You may recall the Darth Dew Slurpee that was featured by 7-Eleven during the release of Star Wars: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.
With an official release date of August 13, Mountain Dew Game Fuel is set to be available for 12 weeks, which means it leaves the marketplace around the beginning of November. This would probably coincide nicely with the rumored holiday return of another "Limited Edition" beverage from Pepsi, Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash.
Given the target audience, it's no surprise that Pepsi launched a supporting website for their new beverage. Over at MountainDewGameFuel.com, there is not only information about the drink itself, but also downloadable desktop wallpapers featuring Halo 3 and the Game Fuel brand. There also appears to be some marketing regarding a promotion done in conjunction with 7-Eleven, as well as some "coming soon" features, including the Game Fuel TV spots and a branded RSS reader — both of which were not active at the date of this review.
So we've talked about the business forces that seemed to birth Mountain Dew Game Fuel into existence… now let's talk about the drink itself! The biggest selling point for Game Fuel, given the target audience at gamers, seems to be the caffeine content. For the first time, this is clearly labeled on the packaging itself, thanks to pressures put upon the soft drink manufacturers in recent years. Of course, they don't make the listings easy. For example, the information on Game Fuel's label breaks down the caffeine content on the basis of "servings", which is just idiotic. A 20 oz. bottle of Game Fuel has 2.5 servings per container, per the Nutrition Facts. Yeah, I'm sure you are going to drink a serving and put the bottle away for later. Let's not even think about what happens to the carbonation factor!
Nevertheless, when you do the math on the caffeine content, Mountain Dew Game Fuel breaks down to 6.0 mg per ounce. This is the highest content for a Mountain Dew beverage, just edging out Mountain Dew MDX's 5.875 mg per ounce (which incidentally, is the same content found in Coke's Mountain Dew competitor, Vault). In contrast, regular Mountain Dew comes in at 4.58 mg per ounce, with both Mountain Dew Code Red and Mountain Dew Baja Blast coming in slightly lower at 4.5 mg per ounce. (Data thanks to The Caffeine Database!)
The color of the beverage has a red hue, but more of an orange-red. Maybe red-orange. I never could keep my Crayola colors straight! It's not as red as Mountain Dew Code Red. The smell upon opening the bottle brings you back to Kool-Aid, of all things… the Tropical Punch flavor to be exact.
I had a very positive first impression upon my first taste. The flavor was tangy, but mild. Not very biting. It had a subdued tone that reminded me quite a bit of the muted cherry flavor found in Vault Red Blitz. While the flavoring was definitely "red" (if that makes any sense), it was not overly cherry. A good correlation might be that Mountain Dew Game Fuel is to cherry soda what Mountain Dew LiveWire is to orange soda — in both cases, they seem like they'd be part of the same families, but aren't quite. Game Fuel is sort of its own thing. It doesn't really resemble Code Red at all, which one would assume it would.
My initial experience was good… and then came the aftertaste. I think this is where the drink falls apart. Such a good start, no execution in the long run. The tail end of the drink experience brings hints of a cough medicine-type of flavor. Not exactly a good thing. While there is definitely a fruity flavor throughout the tasting — with hints of citrus and maybe watermelon thrown in — it fails in its completion. On that note, I'd put it in a classification with Mountain Dew LiveWire, which I personally feel is an underwhelming drink that isn't really worthy of the Mountain Dew brand.
I really wanted to like Mountain Dew Game Fuel. I thought it might be a nice competitor to such niche drinks as Hawaiian Punch, but with an increase in both carbonation and caffeine content. But it would seem that the marketing was more important than the actual flavor here, as Pepsi sort of dropped the ball.
A little more tweaking could improve this drink greatly. Unfortunately, given the mass-produced nature of drinks like this, the insistence of the big players to stick with high fructose corn syrup in their products vs. sugar, and the heavy marketing targeting an audience that probably cares more about the "buzz" of the drink rather than the taste experience, I think we're stuck with Game Fuel as is. Thankfully, that's just for a few weeks!