"It's the film that every skater in New York has been wanting to see," said Michael Blatter, CEO of the marketing and branding firm Mirrorball, who put the filmmakers -- noted skate-video directors Coan "Buddy" Nichols and Rick Charnoski -- in touch with the PepsiCo soft-drink brand. "Skating is a very documented sport, but pre-1990, there were few video cameras to really record its rise."
No product integration
Unlike its last cinematic foray into boarder culture -- the feature documentary "First Descent," which followed four snowboarders on their journey to climb and surf a mountain, with gentle Mountain Dew placements here and there -- the brand completely refrained from any product integration in the movie.
"We hope to get inside the culture and tap into the influencers," said Frank Cooper, VP-flavors, Pepsi-Cola North America. "But in marketing to this subculture that is skating, we'd rather err on the side of being non-intrusive."
Although the production cost was offset by using Mountain Dew's infrastructure to market the movie through its databases, websites and agencies, as well as leveraging its long lists of partnerships for print releases and initial screenings and tours, the brand still ponied up a six-figure budget for the principal photography and post-production of the film with "absolutely no creative control" over the project, Mr. Cooper said. In fact, the directors retain full rights to the movie.
"We want the Mountain Dew brand to not only symbolize the culture, but to participate in it by having something of value to say and to bring," Mr. Cooper said.
Support without strings
It's a move very much appreciated by members of the subculture and, of course, by the directors. "If you're going to claim you're involved, how about getting involved?" said Mr. Nichols, one of the directors and 20-year skate veteran. "What a novel concept, right? No stickers or plugs, just funding a project for the sake of the project."
"Mountain Dew is all about entrenching itself in this culture," Mirrorball's Mr. Blatter said. "Part of that is supporting the scene [without exploiting it]. We needed to find an agency that 'got it,' and we didn't have to educate Mountain Dew about that."
Mountain Dew is marketing around the movie. Promotional materials will bear its logo, and events such as an advance screening and after-party held last week in Manhattan had a plentiful supply of the sponsor's signature graffiti-embellished bottles. The brand only appears at the start of a film, in the same way a movie studio is credited before the credits roll. The movie, set for a limited theatrical release before going to DVD, will sport additional brand-related content in the DVD's extra features. Participants in promotional contests will also get a chance to win free gear and ride with skate legends.
It's a risky strategy, but one that seems to be paying off. Mountain Dew's previous movie, "First Descent," earned a modest $751,000 during its 21-day theatrical run, but Mr. Cooper expects "Deathbowl to Downtown" to fare better as its target demographic is larger (there are more skaters than snowboarders out there), and also because its ethnographic bent will attract a larger audience than the "action-porn" format of "First Descent" that appealed only to hard-core fans of the sport. Combined with the equally risky, yet much more successful "Dewmocracy" ad campaign, Mountain Dew is placing itself at the forefront of branded entertainment.
"Traditional [return on investment] shouldn't be the only factor for moving forward with a project," Mr. Cooper said. "Cultural currency is hard to measure, but we know our brand is getting attention, because people on blogs know we are a part of the project, they are talking about us. And at the screening, the crowd applauded Mountain Dew's participation, which is not an easy thing for a corporation to get [from this crowd]. We are getting a level of acceptance we didn't have before."
Interestingly enough, the hands-off approach seemed to allow for a bit of unplanned cross-promotion. Nike, which also had deals with the directors, was able to plug an ad in the movie, albeit a historical one that's part of the documentary. But Mr. Cooper said that turned into an opportunity for both brands to come together: "We were fine with that [the ad] because Nike aren't competitors and we like them. They put out a new Air Abington shoe nicknamed the 'Mountain Dew' that sports our colors."