Mello Yello, Coca-Cola’s longtime competitor to PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew, is channeling the spirit of 1979 in an attempt to break out of its perennial also-ran status.
The new Mello Yello cans, which began appearing on shelves over the last few weeks, hearken back to the brand’s introduction that year with a pair of green- and light-red L’s “strolling off the edge of the can,” as Coke describes it.
The somewhat retro look is part of Coca-Cola’s plan to expand the brand’s distribution beyond its current regional footprint. The new cans, for instance, will begin showing up in cities like Philadelphia as well as in the Northwest. The redesign, which replaces a look that was closer in style to the current Mountain Dew, is meant to appeal to teens and young adults—Mello Yello’s core target—but also older consumers who may remember the brand’s original packaging. Mello Yello’s repackaging is the first major marketing attention the brand has gotten in years. (Mello Yello had no appreciable spending last year, per the Nielsen Co., which doesn’t track online spending.)
Peter Clarke, CEO of Product Ventures, a brand strategy and design firm, said the relaunch is part of a trend in which consumers are gravitating to things that are comfortable and familiar. “People are retreating like Thoreau did to Walden Pond,” he said. Designs that tend to be simple, nostalgic or have a “retro flair” are comforting, whereas “things with an edge speak to fast pace, hectic and crazy. People are already overwhelmed quite a bit,” he added.
Coca-Cola is supporting the launch via out-of-home, radio and digital ads, the latter of which launch in August. One outdoor execution reads (with a nod to the British singer-songwriter Donovan): “They call me Mello Yello.” There’s also the accompanying tagline, “The original smooth,” which appears on the can.
The company tapped New York-based design agency Stag&Hare for the new look, and Mutt Industries in Portland, Ore., handled advertising duties. Sabrina Tandon, who goes by the title senior manager of smooth, is in charge of marketing Mello Yello.
Coke sold 27 million cases of Mello Yello last year versus 630 million for Mountain Dew, according to Beverage Digest. John Sicher, the publication’s editor, said that Mountain Dew has been marketed very well by PepsiCo and as a result completely dominates the citrus segment, though Coca-Cola’s Sprite is a big player in the clear lemon-lime category. “Mountain Dew is a very strong brand; it’s done very well,” he said. “Coke is smart to try to get [into] more of the citrus segment action.”
Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights, an industry publication that covers the nonalcoholic beverages industry, said Mello Yello’s redesign is a good move. “We seem to be in a period where a new generation is discovering the 1960s/70s and flaunting peace symbols, psychedelic music styles, Afros and the like,” he wrote in an e-mail. Plus, flavored carbonated soft drinks have taken off in a downturn, and both Coca-Cola and Pepsi have focused their attention there. “The big checks they were willing to write to hang onto Crush is another indicator of that,” he said, referring to both companies’ decision to buy their main North American bottlers and continue distributing Dr Pepper Snapple Group brands, including the orange-flavored soda.