Q&A: Mountain Dew’s Brett O’Brien

Social media played a key role in helping Mountain Dew select and tout its newly launched White Out flavor. What’s more, the initiative significantly increased the brand’s presence on high-visibility platforms like Facebook and strengthened its long-term consumer engagement.

Here, Brett O’Brien, marketing director for the PepsiCo-owned brand, discusses the results of the digitally focused “DEWmocracy” effort, and how, moving forward, social outreach and crowdsourcing will play even bigger roles in the brand’s evolution.

Brandweek: So White Out is the winning beverage in Mountain Dew’s “DEWmocracy 2” campaign. Does that come as a surprise?
O’Brien (pictured): It wasn’t a huge surprise. It was the most differentiated in terms of color and how it looks on the shelf [compared with] other products. It’s definitely something people gravitate towards as far as something that looks visually different from any of the other Dews or sodas. It was definitely a factor of differentiation, but from a taste perspective, it’s also pretty neutral. Folks across the board felt pretty good about it. It’s been interesting to track people’s feelings on our Facebook page. You see a lot of people having pretty distinctive affections towards each one of the beverages, but White Out seemed to get a love of love across the board.

How did “DEWmocracy 2” help increase the brand’s social media presence, and is this short- or long-term brand engagement?
The program itself has certainly helped increase our social networking presence. Mountain Dew already had a very vocal, very passionate audience well before all of the “DEWmocracy” stuff. With “DEWmocracy 2,” you started to see a great deal of people feel like they could have a say in the direction of the brand, now that their voices meant something. You saw a great increase in traction on Facebook — and we had an almost 800,000-fan increase from the time we started the program in June 2009 until today, where we are at 920,000 Facebook fans. And honestly, what I think has driven that has been word of mouth and enthusiasm for the brand.

How was the winning flavor decided upon? Entirely on consumer votes? What about sales?
It was 100 percent based on consumer votes, so there was no sales factor. (White Out won with 44 percent, and Typhoon ad Distortion had 40 and 16 percent, respectively, per PepsiCo.) Consumers could vote online, through DEWmocracy.com, or they could text [their choice] in. There was also a huge voting push on [Microsoft’s] Xbox Live.

How are the two campaigns different? What were some of the key differences and lessons?
We were so proud of “DEWmocracy 1” and we still are. “DEWmocracy 1” created a very different way to look at innovation and to have your consumers be a part of it and that is where we left off with “DEWmocracy 1” and started with “DEWmocracy 2.” What happened is — between there was this digital media and social networking explosion — we were able to have a much richer conversation with our consumers in places where they were already talking about Dew, instead of saying, “We need you to come to one location in order to engage in an innovation program.” So the first time around, we invited consumers to come to DEWmocracy and participate in several different steps. This time, we want you to be comfortable in a place where you already talk about Dew and include DEWmocracy in the conversation. We learned a great deal about the power of social networking and the power of engaging our fans to spread that message. That’s how “DEWmocracy 2” caught on in such a strong way.

What kinds of conversations were consumers having about the three flavors? (Each flavor — White Out, Typhon and Distortion — had a message board on the DEWmocracy site.)
People feel a great deal of pride for products they help to create. So, people talked a lot about the taste of the products. That was the most pervasive thing we saw … but there was also so much passion for those folks involved in building these [Flavor Nations]. It was less about, “That other flavor is no good,” and more about, “How could you not pick Typhoon? It’s so different and has everything I’ve been looking for in a soda!” People really got passionate.

Will there be “DEWmocracy 3” and how is PepsiCo changing it up?
As we look ahead to the different innovation programs and to partnerships, we want to continue to maintain the essence of what makes Dew a success, especially this open dialog with our fans. That is the essence of what you will see moving forward. As far as a distinctive program, I doubt you will see anything like what you just saw, but different iterations of consumer involvement in order to highlight different parts of the brand. That helps us grow as we move forward. So, [will there be a DEWmocracy 3?] I won’t say for sure, but it certainly won’t be a carbon copy of what you’ve just seen, but a different take on it.