After years of exhorting consumers to "Do the Dew," PepsiCo's Mountain Dew has enlisted Gyro Worldwide to Dew some duds. It's familiar territory for an ad agency whose own clothing lines have blossomed into brands with downtown cred.
The Philadelphia shop last week began distributing a line of irreverent, graphic T-shirts designed to play to the brand's do-your-own-thing consumer, but with an old-school twist. Instead of tackling the action sports that the brand embraces in its mainstream ads—skateboarding, kayaking, snowboarding—the shirts strive for a vintage feel by harking back to '70s-era, mud-in-your-flaps thrill racing.
"The positioning of Mountain Dew that consumers play back to us is the irreverent part of youth—exhilaration, rebelliousness, that kind of attitude," said Angelique Bellmer, brand director for Mountain Dew.
One of 21 variations on the shirts, printed with an MD-sponsored GTO stock car, reads, "Look out! I've got mean gas!" Another asks, "Who gives a shift?" A third pronounces, "I soiled myself at the Rivers End Annual Mud Bogg." All reference the fictitious Mountain Dew Racing Association, "dedicated to a throwback, guts-and-glory style of racing."
Pre-shrunk cotton is not uncharted territory for PepsiCo. Tees promoting its soft drinks can be found on any city street, but never before has Mountain Dew made such a fashion-conscious play, Bellmer said.
"They've always gone for mass," said Steven Grasse, CEO of the Philadelphia shop and periodic clothing-design outfit. "If we take a little more time with it, we could create a halo of cool for the brand instead of stacking them high at Wal-Mart."
The halo seems to be working for Gyro's own brands. Since 1999, the agency-turned-fashion-house has manufactured, marketed and distributed its own clothing lines—the tattoo-art-inspired Sailor Jerry line, and later G*Mart, a storehouse of rude and randy T-shirts tailor-made for the lad-mag set. The former has been featured in The New York Times Magazine and MTV's Real World. The latter has earned buzz in FHM and Maxim.
When Gyro pitched Mountain Dew a variation on the graphic T-shirt theme last year, the shop already had in place a distribution pipeline to more than 4,000 hipster-certified boutiques. Samples of the T-shirts have been sent to chains including Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic, as well as mom-and-pop operations.
Mountain Dew is walking on the right side of the fine line between being cool and trying to be cool, said Karl Heiselman, managing director and creative director at Wolff Olins, a branding consultancy in New York, adding that the vintage logo gives an authentic feel. "You're borrowing it from the past, like somebody wearing a John Deere hat. ... It's almost like you've found it in a thrift shop," he said.
"I've learned so much about how to get a lot of attention with no money, and I can turn around and sell that expertise," said Grasse. Along with guerrilla marketing, the shop will create print ads for the tees, tagged MD-Gear, that will run in the September issues of Blender, Alternative Press, Dirt Rag and others.
Gyro sells its clients not only on the ideas but on the know-how of manufacturing, distribution and branding. "Most companies that do clothing don't understand strategic branding," said Grasse, "and most companies that do advertising don't understand manufacturing."