BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Having become a surprise master of social media in the near-prehistoric days of 2006, Mentos finds itself working toward what appears to be a successful second or third act.
Hard as it may be to believe, social-media marketing four years ago was in such a state of infancy that brands could be flummoxed rather than overjoyed when a couple of guys combined their products to create a viral-video sensation. Such was the case when Eepybird, a group formed by two guys from New England, started dropping Mentos candies into 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke and posting videos of the explosive results on YouTube.
Marketers at Coca-Cola Co. were slow to embrace the idea -- and perhaps rightly so, given that it's just the sort of off-label use moms of yore warned could put your eye out. But the marketers of Mentos at Perfetti Van Melle had no such qualms. They quickly invited Eepybird to make the first of what eventually would be many tries for a world-record Mentos-Diet Coke fountain near the company's North American headquarters in Erlanger, Ky.
Social media has seen a lot of eras since, and contemporary with, the YouTube era -- the blog era, the Facebook era, the Twitter era, the geo-location era and, most recently, the hand-wringing-about-this-all-being-a-prelude-to-another-bubble era.
Through it all, Mentos has kept its social-media mojo intact. Most recently, the brand early last year began building a Facebook presence through Curiosity Advertising, Cincinnati, that by year end surpassed 500,000 followers.
Of course, that's way fewer than, say, Coca-Cola -- which after a hesitant embrace of Eepybird went on to recently pass a staggering 21 million Facebook fans -- but it's nearly caught up with Diet Coke at 681,000.
Either way, it's a pretty substantial number for a product line that spent almost nothing on traditional media advertising last year and built the following almost entirely through social media and Facebook display advertising, according to Curiosity. (Perfetti Van Melle, while open to social media, declined to talk to the traditional sort, referring questions to the agency.)
More gratifying to Greg Livingston, chief development officer of Curiosity, and Matt Fischer, chief creative officer, is that Mentos has a particularly active following, with the vast majority of Facebook posts and content coming from fans, something that can't be said for many far-bigger package-goods Facebook efforts. For example, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pringles has 8.6 million fans, but all of its currently visible wall posts come from the brand.
In the past year, support for Mentos mints has consisted almost entirely of social media and shopper-marketing, and sales appear to have responded, up 6% to $72.8 million for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 28, according to SymphonyIRI data for food, drug and mass outlets excluding Walmart and convenience stores.
But the mints also likely benefited from the halo of ads from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, for Mentos chewing gum, which got $13 million in media support through September, according to Kantar Media.
The goal of the Facebook effort was to reach a generation of consumers who never saw the brand's "Freshmaker" ads from the 1990s. The unintentionally campy ads are adapted from German originals by Pahnke, Hamburg.
"We discovered there was already a lot of [social media] interaction going on," Mr. Fischer said. "Consumers loved [Mentos'] quirky optimism."
It seems almost a lifetime in social-media years since Diet Coke-Mentos fountains were the topic du jour, but for Eepybird, the pair of guys from Buckfield, Maine, behind the idea, it's more than a viral-video sensation. It's a living.
Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz in the past year have done about three dozen performances featuring their fountains from numerous U.S. locales to Poland and the Philippines. In the last, they set their latest world record for sugar-fueled carbonated cola fountains with 2,856. And they've spawned competition: Twice last year they had to wrest the record from a Latvian group.
In the past four-plus years, more than 150 million people, by Eepybird's estimates, have seen videos of the fountains. The pair has started a social-media consulting firm, though they say they are not at liberty to disclose clients. And they're working on a book about social-media marketing they hope to publish later this year.
Along the way, they've learned the art of line extension.
No longer content to just make fountains, the pair now make rocket cars propelled by Mentos and Coke Zero. The rocket cars were featured on the Facebook page of Mentos U.S., garnered a full-page spread in 2010 in People magazine and made the Letterman show, where David Letterman drove a Mentos-and-Coke-Zero-propelled car down 53rd Street.