Barbara Lippert’s Critique

On TV and in movies, there’s nothing quieter than a golf crowd standing in hushed silence around a manicured green as a player lines up the crucial putt. With all the collective breath-holding, it’s a scene that resonates with golf’s rules and country club perfection and propriety. That’s why it’s a standard comic setup, just begging to be exploited.

Still, I was unprepared for what does the jabbing in this Diet Mountain Dew commercial: A flying golf cart comes out of nowhere, hurtling over the crowd like Evel Knievel shooting over 16 cars. Golf carts are funny-looking, ungainly vehicles to begin with, but the velocity and height this thing achieves is amazing. It would seem to clear not only the green, the gallery and the sand traps, but also to be heading for Seattle.

We go from orderly reverence to hell-bent demo derby in a matter of seconds. Then, clubs flying in all directions, the cart turns over and over, and comes clanking down to earth, miraculously no worse for the wear. The John Candy-type guys in it get out, unhurt. The bulkier one even takes a bow. “No matter who you are, everybody’s got a little of the Diet Dew in them,” says the voiceover (Jay Mohr). “So don’t hold back. Do the Diet Dew.”

The spot not only takes the electric golf cart into unchartered territory, it also makes some interesting moves for a diet drink. We’re not used to seeing diet soda drinkers embodied by a potbellied, loutish bruiser of a guy—they usually populate beer ads. But it’s also ancient history to pitch diet drinks to men. When Diet Coke was introduced in the early ’80s, the can was designed with pinstripes that suggested baseball, to make it appear more macho. What is new is that while soft-drink sales are flat, sales of diet soft drinks are on the rise. And so is the marketing of them. This campaign, breaking during NCAA basketball, is the first new work for Diet Dew since 1994 (or before the Mountain came out of the Dew).

In the rest of the category, Diet Dr Pepper promotes itself on taste—”Not everything can be as good as the original, but Diet Dr Pepper is.” Diet Pepsi’s new tagline, “Think young, drink young,” is only partly ironic. As the debacle over Ted Koppel and not-so-young Dave drove home, most advertisers care only about youth. But in this burgeoning soft-drink universe, Diet Dew forgoes the usual demographics. Forget age, income and gender: Now Diet Mountain Dew is the drink for the great unleashed.

In the second spot, the “Don’t hold back” message also plays out in an unexpected way. We see an 80-year-old lady perfectly dressed in a tweed suit, waiting for a cab on a city street. She’s a bit tentative in her moves, and as she keeps waiting, it gets poig nant. A yellow cab pulls up, and just as she maneuvers to open the door, a rugged yuppie-track star-investment-banker jumps in. Like us, she’s incredulous that he could be so rude.

In the first of the surprises, she climbs right in the backseat after him. But apparently this woman is heartily self-empowered. She’s a half-Her cules. She throws the big guy right out of the cab, and he hits his head on the sidewalk. As he’s getting up, we get the “Don’t hold back” voice over, and then the second shocker: She throws out the attaché case and completely clocks him on the head again. (The comic effects here are several grades better than the usual blooper sensibility.)

The Mountain Dew team is on a tear—the latest ad for the mother brand, a takeoff on the old Davey and Goliath shows of the ’60s, is brilliant. This is some kind of new derring-do for the Diet Dew. “Diet” is usually associated with holding back. But now that we have permission to let go, there’s one more scary thing to look out for in the streets—people releasing their inner Dew.