Commentary: DEWmocracy and Mountain Dew’s online marketing


Update 4/21/10: Read our overview of DEWmocracy 2, featuring Mountain Dew Distortion, Mountain Dew Typhoon, and Mountain Dew White Out.


Last November, PepsiCo launched an interesting marketing campaign tied to their Mountain Dew brand. Titled “DEWmocracy”, this initiative allowed customers to vote on the next flavor of Dew. Seems like a simple enough concept, but the execution was rather over the top.

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

The campaign was launched in phases, and at the time of this writing, is still taking place. The first phase involved the launch of a website (dewmocracy.com) that set the “story” for this whole endeavor. It’s not your simple “vote in the poll for the drink you want” device. Instead, Pepsi decided to create a short film, roll out an online role playing game, and evoke social networking devices to push this idea through. The press release stated that “DEWmocracy is the first-ever interactive, story-based online game that will result in a consumer-generated beverage innovation.” That’s quite a wordy way to say “we’re going to do marketing research online.”

The DEWmocracy Movie
(Source: Dewmocracy.com)

To pull this off, Pepsi and ad agency WhittmanHart Interactive tapped into actor/director Forest Whitaker to help craft the storyline. The entire adventure is setup up via a 3 minute short film that evokes overtones of Big Brother and overbearing governmental/corporate control. This has resulted in a loss of creativity.

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

“The Chosen One”… from the DEWmocracy video

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Interact with characters in the multi-player game

However, as is the plotline in most of these types of stories, a “chosen one” rises up to rebel against this oppression. Here’s the product twist… he seeks an elixir that will bring creativity and “restore the soul of mankind.” Now if you move beyond the irony that PepsiCo is a huge multinational conglomerate and that Mountain Dew is a top 5 selling soft drink found pretty much everywhere, you can see the somewhat unique spin this campaign possesses.

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Visit different worlds to play minigames for your quest

With this sort of setting, a massive multi-player game was launched on the DEWmocracy site. It required you to setup a login, as you can customize your personal profile and attributes. You then end up going into these 7 “worlds” playing mini Flash-based games along the way, earning points.

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Points and progress are tabulated during your journey

As you do this, you select different attributes that you want in your ideal Mountain Dew beverage. Things like flavor, what sort of “boost” it contained, color, name, and logo design. Pepsi reported that the DEWmocracy site had over 700,000 unique visitors, with 200,000 registered users participating in the first phase of the game.

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

The second phase kicked off in January 2008 and narrowed down all the attributes to 3 final flavor options. Of course, the cynic in me points out that Pepsi probably had these 3 options picked from the start, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew already which one of these products they will actually rollout. I mean, it’s obvious that a corporate giant isn’t going to give full control to potential customers. If they did, they might have another Crystal Pepsi or Pepsi Blue on their hands… and I’m sure they’d like to avoid that!

Before this entire DEWmocracy initiative started, PepsiCo did move to protect the trademarks on a whole bunch of Mountain Dew related names to be used for “soft drinks, and syrups and concentrates for making the same.” These included:

The whole gaming idea was obviously put in place to pseudo-connect with the core demographic of the brand, which in Dew’s case, actually does involve quite a few online-savvy folks, males 12-36, and video game players (as evidenced by the limited edition Mountain Dew Game Fuel).

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Navigating through the online game

The whole Democracy experience can probably best be summarized as a big focus group… but Pepsi hoped folks didn’t feel like that during the early parts of the game experience. Now that the second phase has rolled out, the DEWmocracy message boards (which seem to be pretty hands-off when it comes to moderation) feature an abundance of folks who feel “outraged” at the whole commercial aspect of the endeavor. It’s an interesting social observation to see the creative game player clash with the structured marketing plan.

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

2nd game phase involves recruiting others to support your flavor

In the press revolving around the campaign, much was made of Pepsi targeting “Millennials”, those in their late teens/early 20s, born between 1980 and 1995. This is evidenced by all “recruiting” tools that players are given to promote their favorite flavor on blogs, MySpace, and Facebook.

Mountain Dew DEWmocracy

Discussion forums built around flavor “factions” and online games

Pepsi also provided a discussion forum to create subcommunities around the brands along with general feedback on the game. When you have this type of situation, there tends to be a couple hyperaffilated fans who try to get things going with “flame wars” and insults on folks who picked a flavor different than their own. It’s obvious that the marketing folks are trying to emulate the dynamics found in other roleplaying games like World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, I don’t think they really have the critical mass of players to pull off that dynamic here.

What we have in the end are 3 “safe” flavors to vote on… with the promise that one will be selected as an official flavor in 2008. The “People’s Dew”, so to speak. DEWmocracy’s FAQ does note you may be able to taste all 3 of these flavors over the summer:

Q: Is there a way I can actually taste the three new Mountain Dew drinks before the final vote?
A: As part of the move from a virtual gaming experience to a real world election, all three candidates – Mountain Dew Supernova, Mountain Dew Revolution, and Mountain Dew Voltage – will be made available on store shelves across the country this summer before the final vote. Seekers, recruiters and all Mountain Dew lovers in general will get to meet their creations face to face, and taste to taste, before casting a vote. After the election results are in, the ultimate winner, the People’s Dew, will remain on the store shelves and be officially recognized as an honored member of the Mountain Dew lineup.

In the end, those 3 finalists names were part of the above trademark filings and include:

Mountain Dew Voltage
Raspberry Citrus with Ginseng
Mountain Dew Voltage

Mountain Dew Supernova
Strawberry Melon with Ginseng
Mountain Dew Supernova

Mountain Dew Revolution
Wild Berry with Ginseng
Mountain Dew Revolution

Anyone find it amusing that out of all the possibilities, everyone voted to add ginseng to the new Dew? Like I said, Pepsi had to have the outcomes planned from the start, with the social voting mechanic slapped on to make a good marketing campaign. Case in point… last April, a product called Mountain Dew Clash was being test marketed. It seems to have a similar composition as the proposed Mountain Dew Revolution. Interesting!

In the end, you have 3 brand names (Voltage, Supernova, Revolution) which really mean nothing. They don’t define a flavor or attribute, unlike say, Code Red or Pitch Black. They are generic placeholders for what will probably end up being a rather conservative choice in final flavor. But perhaps that’s what the folks at Pepsi are really striving for in the end. They gave hyperfans some control over the experience, funneled that control into 3 seemingly preselected choices, and when the final vote anoints a winner, perhaps the actual name and flavor won’t matter. Those invested in the process will purchase the product anyway because of their emotional involvement in the experience. It will probably have a big launch, then die off quick. Thus, I see the winning beverage being positioned as a “limited time” offering, which Pepsi has been quite fond of doing as of late (see Mountain Dew Game Fuel, Sierra Mist Lemon Squeeze, Pepsi Summer Mix, Pepsi Summer Mix, Mountain Dew Pitch Black, Mountain Dew Pitch Black II, Pepsi Holiday Spice, and Mountain Dew LiveWire… of course, LiveWire stuck around!)

Which Dew would you like to see win in the end?

Here are a couple of news stories about the DEWmocracy campaign. Let’s start with the official press release from PepsiCo:

Forest Whitaker and Mountain Dew launch “DEWmocracy”

Giving Power to the People; Interactive Game Invites Consumers to Develop New Mountain Dew Product

PURCHASE, N.Y. – November 7, 2007 – Forest Whitaker and Mountain Dew have teamed up to develop “DEWmocracy” – a virtual world that will allow consumers to create the next Mountain Dew beverage online. DEWmocracy is the first-ever interactive, story-based online game that will result in a consumer-generated beverage innovation.

Consumers may now go to www.dewmocracy.com to enter the DEWmocracy experience that features a live-action short-film and an animated game featuring mystical 3D characters. The player’s online journey includes various challenges that give them the tools to develop every aspect of a new Mountain Dew drink, including the color, flavor and label graphics.

Whitaker narrates the live-action video and developed all of the elements of the DEWmocracy experience, including the story, the live-action film, the animated characters, and game design.

“Mountain Dew offered me an amazing opportunity to create a mythic universe using all forms of storytelling that will allow those who participate to develop their product,” said Forest Whitaker. “It has been a wonderfully creative experience and I was able to work with extremely talented artists. Ultimately, the drink will be on the street and in stores where you get to see it, touch it, taste it, drink it, make it a part of you; bringing you from the virtual world to the real world.”

When players enter the game at www.dewmocracy.com, they are asked to select a drink flavor and will later join one of three teams that will develop different “candidates” for the next Mountain Dew line extension.

Each team will “campaign” for its beverage candidate. The winning Mountain Dew candidate will be decided by online votes, making the selection process a true “DEWmocracy.”

“Our goal is to entertain, empower, and engage our consumers through DEWmocracy,” said Frank Cooper, VP of marketing for Mountain Dew. “Dew consumers are some of the most passionate around and we know they’ll be anxious to create a new product. We were fortunate to have Forest, one of the great creative minds of today, help us expand our brand and develop a product through a new model – story-based consumer innovation.”

Whitaker worked with a range of partners, including Matti Leshem/Protagonist (developed initial DEWmocracy idea), Tony Bui (screenplay and narration writer), Syd Dutton/Illusion Arts (matte paintings, game environment drawings), Holmes Defender of the Faith (live action production), Anne-Marie Mackay (development producer and treatment writer), Ben Richards (character illustrations), Andrew Tucker (3D character animation), WhittmanHart Interactive, (game and web development) and Susan Zwerman (visual effects and animation producer).

About Mountain Dew
Mountain Dew is a product of Purchase, N.Y.-based Pepsi-Cola North America (www.pepsi.com), the refreshment beverage unit of PepsiCo, Inc., in the United States and Canada. In addition to Mountain Dew, Diet Mountain Dew, Mountain Dew Code Red, Mountain Dew LiveWire and AMP, its U.S. brands include Pepsi, Aquafina, Sierra Mist, IZZE, SoBe, Mug, Tropicana Twister Soda, Tropicana Juice Drinks, Dole and Ocean Spray single-serve juices. The company also makes and markets North America’s best-selling ready-to-drink iced teas and coffees, respectively, via joint ventures with Lipton and Starbucks.

Source: Pepsi-Cola North America

And for a take from the advertising industry, coverage from Advertising Age:

Mountain Dew Makes MMO More Than Just a Game

‘Dewmocracy’ Draws 200,000 Registered Users in First Phase of Elaborate Plan to Choose New Flavor

By John Gaudiosi
January 28, 2008

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — An anonymous hero rebels against the forces of uniformity and seeks an elixir that will change everything.

It sounds like a pilot for the Sci-Fi Channel or from a lost Marvel Comic. It’s actually how Pepsi-Cola is describing its most ambitious foray into the branded-gaming space: a rich, massively multiplayer online game that supports an ever-expanding plan to let consumers choose the next flavor of Mountain Dew. It’s no low-involvement proposition for consumers, which is why the marketer is cheered by early returns.

“The idea was based around the fact that we know consumers want to get more involved in creating their own content as well as developing their own products,” said Frank Cooper, VP-marketing at Pepsi-Cola North America. “Our feeling was there was a way to bring gaming and Mountain Dew together in a story-based form. Here’s a platform where consumers go through a story, play a game and through the process develop a product.”

The MMO game was created in large part by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and built by interactive agency WhittmanHart.

Mr. Cooper said the website, dewmocracy.com, has had 700,000 unique visitors, including 200,000 registered members who have played the game. The average time spent per gaming session is 28 minutes, he said.

“Those are great numbers, because we hadn’t expected that many people to get involved in phase one of this campaign, which had an elaborate registration process and had a pretty significant game that required a time commitment,” Mr. Cooper said. “With phase two, when the program comes out of the game and people begin to campaign and vote for the new flavor, that’s the mainstream proposition that allows non-gamers and anyone to come in and vote in the Dewmocracy process. We expect a bigger leap in numbers for that.”

Pepsi has expanded its original plans. Instead choosing one flavor that makes it to market, consumers in February will be able to choose three new flavors that will be put to a national taste test starting in July.

“That will give the consumers a chance to taste it, experience it, and we’ll have a vote over the next eight to 10 weeks, and we’ll pick the final product,” Mr. Cooper said. The winning product will enter the market in November.

While the program will shift to viral voting and campaigning, the “Dewmocracy” game won’t go away. Mr. Cooper said elements of the game will be populated across the web in smaller bites.

“If we get a significant reaction, we think there’s an opportunity to expand this game into a broader online property,” Mr. Cooper said. “We’re seeking feedback from the consumer about what parts of the game they enjoy; is the story line resonating? And if it is, we do have plans to expand it into a long-term MMO.”

Pepsi-Cola has a heritage of clearly aligning its Mountain Dew brand with gamers, males 12 to 36 who spend more of their free time playing video games than watching TV. And while adver-gaming previously has focused on simple, Flash-based, arcade-style games, such as the recent Taco Bell fighting game “Taco Fu,” “Dewmocracy” explores a type of online connected game play that has exploded with both casual and hard-core gamers through the Blizzard Entertainment hit “World of Warcraft,” which has more than 10 million paying subscribers.

Mr. Cooper believes what makes “Dewmocracy” unique is not the game itself but the fact that this story-based, interactive experience leads to product innovation that enters the real world in the form of a new drink.

“That’s the leap that I think no one else has made yet,” Mr. Cooper said.