Diet Mtn Dew is all grown up.
The newly minted billion-dollar brand is officially out from under the flagship's shadow, gaining a dedicated tagline, marketing manager and a boost in spending. And in a coup for Diet Mtn Dew, it has assumed sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nascar car from Pepsi's Amp brand. Not bad for a product that began life as a line extension.
"We hadn't put a lot of resources behind [Diet Mtn Dew]," said Brett O' Brien, VP-marketing for Mtn Dew and flavored carbonated drinks. "It was something that you found and then you were in this exclusive club, because we didn't talk about it much. As that exclusive club grew bigger and bigger, it became clear we had to put some dedicated resources against it."
Founded in 1988, Diet Mtn Dew has had strong growth even as the carbonated-soft-drink category slowed in recent years. The brand, targeted at Gen X males, cracked the top 10 soda brands in 2005 with a 1.4% share of the total market, according to Beverage Digest. In 2010 it had a 2% share of the $74 billion category.
Full-year figures aren't available yet for 2011, but Beverage Digest reports that , excluding fountain sales, Diet Mtn Dew's volume was up 2%, while the overall category's declined 0.5%.
The brand increased sales by skirting the "diet" stigma carried by some other soft-drink brands that appeal to Gen X males. Diet Mtn Dew skews 60% male and 40% female, while the base brand is split 70%-30%.
"We attribute this to the strength of the Dew brand with male consumers," said a spokeswoman. "The brand halo from base Dew seems to counter the negative "diet' perception."
And with its own marketing budget, there's nowhere to go but up. "The success of Diet Mtn Dew is a function of the success of Mtn Dew," said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. "Mtn Dew has consistently been one of the best-marketed soft-drink brands in the U.S. As consumers have gravitated more toward diet sodas, Diet Mtn Dew has benefited. ... Diet soft drinks that taste good and are marketed well have huge growth potential over the next decade."
The brand's first dedicated tagline, "Yeah, it tastes that good," drives home the message that Diet Mtn Dew is at taste parity with the regular version. The tagline is prominent in a series of new commercials that will be in rotation nationally with network buys. BBDO New York handles creative for Diet Mtn Dew and Mtn Dew.
Despite the brand's consistent growth, Diet Mtn Dew has received only sporadic support, such as the quirky "Surprising Facts" campaign, which ran largely on cable TV. Measured-media spending has been just a couple of million dollars in each of the last few years, according to Kantar. Executives plan to boost media spending by 50% in 2012.
"We're carving out budget within the trademark that 's dedicated to Diet. We may carve out more, depending on what we're seeing," said Mr. O' Brien.
Last year, Emily Silver was added as Diet Mtn Dew's senior marketing manager. While people associated with the brand have always worked on Diet Mtn Dew, Ms. Silver is the first to be dedicated to the business, Mr. O' Brien said.
She was in Florida for the Daytona 500, where Mr. Earnhardt took second place and fans were decked out in the brand's gear. "There were T-shirts, hats and backpacks everywhere. You can just imagine the awareness that 's going to come from that ," Ms. Silver said. "[Dale] empowers the target we're trying to reach. He's clearly in that demographic; he's switching to Diet in his own life."
A spot featuring Mr. Earnhardt and the Diet Mtn Dew car began airing this month. Programs throughout the seasons will highlight the sponsorship, as well as the resurrection of the Dew Crew. During Darrell Waltrip's 1981 and 1982 championships seasons, his pit crew wore bright-green pants and shirts with the moniker Dew Crew. The new iteration is an online community.
Diet Mtn Dew will also be front and center with college basketball (though it's not an official NCAA sponsor) as it partners with ESPN on a "Fuel the Frenzy" promotion.
"We've got a lot of runway," said Mr. O' Brien. "We're by no means at a point where it's about trying to get current users to drink more. It's about bringing in new users. It's sort of this new drink that 's been around a long time."