Mountain Dew is undergoing an extreme makeover, scrapping its 13-year-old "Do the Dew" theme and dumping its "extreme" positioning, which many now consider tired.
Frank Cooper, vp-marketing put in charge of the PepsiCo brand less than a year ago, is leading the charge, challenging the company's agencies and consultants to come up with a new plan, per sources.
The move is particularly risky since Dew was the only major PepsiCo soda label to gain market share last year. It also comes as the flagship Pepsi-Cola brand begins its own makeover this week.
Dew's new positioning will be fashioned around "fueling the core." That means "satisfying people's need for excitement or fulfillment in whatever they do," said a Pepsi exec with knowledge of the matter.
Dew will focus on exhilaration, energy and the enjoyment of finding new passions. "Extreme is no longer extreme," said the exec, noting how so many other brands have occupied the niche and taken it mainstream. "We don't know what the answer is. We're waiting for our agencies to come up with something and we're conducting research. We haven't come up with the Holy Grail yet."
The exec said scrapping "Do the Dew," the longest-running campaign in the category, is part of the strategy: "If you change the whole approach, you have to change that. Although we might wink at it."
A Pepsi rep declined to confirm the move. "We're still looking at all of our options. There's nothing to share yet," said the rep. BBDO, New York, Dew's lead agency since 1973, referred calls to Pepsi.
In the first indication of the change in strategy, Pepsi will overhaul Dew's MDX next month. Because of consumer confusion and slow sales, the brand will no longer be positioned as an energy soda. Rather, it will be marketed as a soft drink that is energy-infused to avoid direct competition with Red Bull. "Be Nocturnal" ads will be axed in favor of ads themed "Stay Sharp," which will quiz TV viewers about details from the shows they are watching.
Mountain Dew's marketing, dating to the 1940s, has been so successful it's been the subject of a Harvard case study and at least two books. The lightly carbonated, caffeinated citrus drink embraced an extreme attitude, popular among teens in the 1990s. Dew was one of the first to align with action sports, which distanced the brand from its roots as "zero proof moonshine" when it was derided as "hillbilly piss." Early Dew ads featured guns, outhouses and corny copy like, "It'll tickle yore innards."
The brand now finds itself at a crossroads. It needs to update its image without alienating its core fan base. Skating away from its extreme image makes sense considering "there are people in their fifties doing extreme stuff," said Warren Church, vp-brand strategy at Deskey, Cincinnati. "Extreme sports worked because it was a step outside of the mainstream where you could be an individual. Whatever they do next, it can't be fake."
An agency exec who had previously worked on the Dew brand said it's about time Dew switched strategy: "Everybody is doing extreme drinks. Kids have new passions. They have to take it to the new phase. They just have to figure out what that is."
Dew has had hits and misses lately with action sports, but the Dew Actions Sports Tour will continue. However last year's Dew-sponsored snowboarding film, First Descent, met with poor reviews and ticket sales.
From an advertising perspective, the brand has already evolved from focusing on kids on skateboards in favor of edgy humor that's included everything from dusting off Mad magazine's "Spy vs. Spy" to featuring action star Steven Segal in slapstick comedy.
Dew is the master of making the equivalent of "beer commercials for teens," said the agency exec. Spending for the upcoming campaign was not disclosed. PepsiCo spent $58 million on media for the Dew brand last year and $15 million for the first eight months of 2006, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Diet Dew got $25 million through August.
Coca-Cola, meanwhile, spent $21 million through August on Vault, its latest Dew knockoff. Prior attempts, Mello Yello and Surge, failed to make their mark. Dew continues to maintain its spot as the fourth best-selling soda with a 9.5% share behind Coke, Pepsi and Diet Coke, per Beverage Digest, Bedford Hills, N.Y. Vault grabbed a 0.6% share for the first half of the year, putting it on the same scale with minor brands like Barq's root beer.
Coke announced it will launch Vault Red Blitz in March to compete with Mountain Dew's Code Red. MDX grabbed a 0.1% share for the first half of the year.
While the Dew team is hard at work, Pepsi will announce initial plans for its "Feel the Pepsi" campaign this week, per sources. The campaign replaces the three-year-old "It's the cola" campaign.