It sounds like a pilot for the Sci-Fi Channel or from a lost Marvel Comic. It's actually how Pepsi-Cola is describing its most ambitious foray into the branded-gaming space: a rich, massively multiplayer online game that supports an ever-expanding plan to let consumers choose the next flavor of Mountain Dew. It's no low-involvement proposition for consumers, which is why the marketer is cheered by early returns.
"The idea was based around the fact that we know consumers want to get more involved in creating their own content as well as developing their own products," said Frank Cooper, VP-marketing at Pepsi-Cola North America. "Our feeling was there was a way to bring gaming and Mountain Dew together in a story-based form. Here's a platform where consumers go through a story, play a game and through the process develop a product."
The MMO game was created in large part by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and built by interactive agency WhittmanHart.
28 minutes later
Mr. Cooper said the website, dewmocracy.com, has had 700,000 unique visitors, including 200,000 registered members who have played the game. The average time spent per gaming session is 28 minutes, he said.
"Those are great numbers, because we hadn't expected that many people to get involved in phase one of this campaign, which had an elaborate registration process and had a pretty significant game that required a time commitment," Mr. Cooper said. "With phase two, when the program comes out of the game and people begin to campaign and vote for the new flavor, that's the mainstream proposition that allows non-gamers and anyone to come in and vote in the Dewmocracy process. We expect a bigger leap in numbers for that."
Pepsi has expanded its original plans. Instead choosing one flavor that makes it to market, consumers in February will be able to choose three new flavors that will be put to a national taste test starting in July.
"That will give the consumers a chance to taste it, experience it, and we'll have a vote over the next eight to 10 weeks, and we'll pick the final product," Mr. Cooper said. The winning product will enter the market in November.
Here to stay
While the program will shift to viral voting and campaigning, the "Dewmocracy" game won't go away. Mr. Cooper said elements of the game will be populated across the web in smaller bites.
"If we get a significant reaction, we think there's an opportunity to expand this game into a broader online property," Mr. Cooper said. "We're seeking feedback from the consumer about what parts of the game they enjoy; is the story line resonating? And if it is, we do have plans to expand it into a long-term MMO."
Pepsi-Cola has a heritage of clearly aligning its Mountain Dew brand with gamers, males 12 to 36 who spend more of their free time playing video games than watching TV. And while adver-gaming previously has focused on simple, Flash-based, arcade-style games, such as the recent Taco Bell fighting game "Taco Fu," "Dewmocracy" explores a type of online connected game play that has exploded with both casual and hard-core gamers through the Blizzard Entertainment hit "World of Warcraft," which has more than 10 million paying subscribers.
Mr. Cooper believes what makes "Dewmocracy" unique is not the game itself but the fact that this story-based, interactive experience leads to product innovation that enters the real world in the form of a new drink.
"That's the leap that I think no one else has made yet," Mr. Cooper said.