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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In the past year alone, Mountain Dew has played indie record-label honcho, action-sports filmmaker and "Dewmocratic" social networker. Now the Pepsi brand has its sights set on owning the independent video-game market, one developer at a time.
Dec. 13 marks the premiere of Mountain Dew's new 30-minute TV special, "The Next Great Game Gods," a co-production with Viacom's Spike TV, spotlighting the international trials and tribulations of the most noteworthy independent gamers in the U.S. and Japan. The special will air the night before Spike's live Video Game Awards, where Mountain Dew will also sponsor its own category, the Best Independent Game Award. Viewers who tune into "The Next Great Game Gods" will watch for a chance to get a free download from one of the four Best Independent Game nominees on Spike.com.
Although Mountain Dew is making a huge financial commitment to the gaming space, the actual branding of its new initiatives will be fairly minimal. For example, the brand has yet to delve deeply into in-game advertising, opting instead to create unique gaming-themed products, such as a customized "Game Fuel" flavor of Mountain Dew for the release of 2007's "Halo 3."
Bigger than placement
"In-game placement is a viable and valid approach to connecting a brand to gaming, but we believe we can play a bigger role in the culture of gaming," said Frank Cooper, VP-portfolio brands for Pepsi.
Mr. Cooper hesitates to label Mountain Dew's gaming efforts as branded entertainment at all. "For a brand, there's nothing more powerful than being part of a ritual. We think we can do that if we're integrated deeper into the experience," he said. "A lot of gamers love Mountain Dew, so they'll drink it before, during and after they play video games."
Geoff Keighley, host of "Game Gods" and Spike's "GameTrailers TV," worked with Mr. Cooper and his team to ensure the special's authenticity. "The conversations were not about how many [Mountain Dew] cans are going to be in the special," he said. "They're giving wider exposure to these titles by amplifying this young talent. Gamers look at this and think that's a really smart way for them to be associated with the gaming industry."
Mountain Dew's ability to generate a sizeable gaming audience was well-documented earlier this year in the form of its "Dewmocracy" microsite, which doubled as a massive multiplayer online game and a contest to name the next Dew flavor. The site drew 200,000 registered users and a total 700,000 unique users, each spending an average 28 minutes on the site.
Acting as a bridge
Mountain Dew's long-term commitment to the gaming community also made it a rare sponsor that would actually make sense to be integrated into the VGAs, which also counts Burger King, GameStop, Stride gum, Energizer and Gillette Fusion as premier sponsors. "Mountain Dew kind of acts as a bridge between the video-game audience, which we super-serve, and also the video-game advertisers and their product," said Jeff Lucas, exec VP-ad sales for Spike TV.
Mr. Lucas said the VGAs' credibility is so crucial to the fan base that even video games aren't allowed to sponsor any categories within the show. "We like to keep a difference between church-state [about] voting on the games. But if you look at [Mountain Dew]'s creative, it matches perfectly within the gaming community, especially with the attitude and the way they push their product to the community."
Mr. Cooper hopes to continue Mountain Dew's efforts as an independent video-game publisher, much in the way it's helped indie music bands such as Cool Kids and Matt and Kim gain exposure through its Green Label digital record imprint. "There are a lot of game titles out in the marketplace, so going the traditional route can be a very expensive proposition," he said. "This is our first step in reaching across to independent game developers, so we wanted to do it in a way that's honest and really adds value."