NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In mid-2009, Mtn Dew's marketing team decided to test the limits of earned media by moving a marketing budget that represents more than $100 million in sales almost entirely online.
It was the second iteration of its "Dewmocracy" campaign, but this time the beverage maker decided to double-down. In the course of more than a year, it would tap its own consumers to build line extensions from the flavor up and delve deeper into online channels to spread the word.
"Crowdsourcing" is a marketing buzzword, but Mtn Dew put it into practice by allowing its most rabid fans to create a new version of a soda, even turning over the selection of a creative agency to the fans, surely a first in beverage marketing and model for how a package-goods marketer can get consumers involved, if they're willing to take the risks.
"It was a gamble," said Brett O'Brien, Mtn Dew's director-marketing. "We haven't spent a dollar on media. It's been 100% earned media."
While the brand saw success with its first "Dewmocracy" effort, an online game that ran from October 2007 to January 2009 in which players designed a new drink, Mtn Dew sought to make its sophomore effort more interactive.
The "Dewmocracy" campaigns involve Mtn Dew allowing consumers to select three new flavors for production, each of which would be distributed nationwide. The three flavors are to be whittled down by popular vote to one which becomes a permanent part of the Mtn Dew lineup. Now, more than eight months into the second "Dewmocracy" effort, the products have been created and marketing plans are in development.
Key to the campaign is building buzz early on and hold interest, goosing sales when the products hit shelves. The brand team also counts on the campaign getting broad pickup, so that the products developed represent something that will have mass appeal. Communications on product development kicked off in June 2009 and the final line extension won't launch until September 2010.
Risky. But then, if anyone is going to do it, it might as well be Mtn Dew, with its embrace of all things edgy, including gaming, extreme sports, and user-generated content. The average Mtn Dew consumer is a male between the ages of 18 and 39. And of those who are active online, 92% frequent Facebook, 79% are on MySpace and half use YouTube.
"The reason we decided to focus as deep as we did in the digital space was because it allowed us to have as rich a dialogue as we could with consumers," said Mr. O'Brien. That meant allowing consumers to make decisions regarding design, development and marketing, through a variety of online outlets.
The campaign kicked off with a contest to receive home-tasting kits of seven potential flavors. Consumers responded with 110 videos submissions and 150 e-mail submissions vying for the kits. Mtn Dew sent the 50 winners Flip video cameras, along with the flavors, and encouraged them to upload videos about their tasting experiences to YouTube.
Once the flavors were selected, Mtn Dew asked consumers to help pick the colors, names and packaging design of the products. Colors were selected via a live UStream event on Facebook, where Mtn Dew has a half million fans. Consumers cast more than 7,000 votes and Mtn Dew found a visual way to demonstrate the vote count that paired perfectly with the culture of its young, irreverent fans -- the votes triggered paint balls in the voters' preferred color to be shot at volunteers.
Beverage names were picked via a "Twitter race" -- each name was assigned a Twitter account and the one that attracted the most followers won. Package designs were created with input from the Dew Labs community, which also selected the designers.
The brand shifted much of the conversation away from its brand site, reaching consumers through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, UStream and 12seconds.tv. That move wasn't without its challenges; Mr. O'Brien said that there are just three brandpeople working directly with the online communities, and each spends, on average, 20% of his or her time monitoring the brand's online interactions.
"When you do a major [traditional] ad campaign, you might hear from consumers, 'I like this or don't like this about this ad,'" he said. "But it takes a lot more time to switch your message and pick up on any areas that consumers aren't receiving. With this campaign, we get feedback within 24 hours and move quickly in one direction or reverse, if we need to."
There are times, however, when the brand team doesn't get to a consumer comment right away and must jump in mid-conversation. Other times the team has learned simply from watching how consumers "get from A to B."
Mtn Dew even turned over the selection of a creative agency to fans, something that hadn't originally been a part of the plan. "We have an agency of record in BBDO, yet as we discussed with consumers ... it became clear that the consumer had built these products and had a clear idea of the products," said Mr. O'Brien. "The consumers challenged us to say who is going to do our advertising, and how do we get some new thinking?"
As a result, agencies and individuals were invited to submit 12-second videos via 12seconds.tv outlining their ideas for marketing the three new Mtn Dew line extensions. Three winners were selected by consumers, who cast more than 15,000 votes. More than 200 ads were submitted -- a number by advertising agencies -- but, in the end, three small shops won out. An animation company, a production company and a group of aspiring creatives will handle marketing for the flavors. The shops will be paid the same way Mtn Dew would pay any of its roster shops, with a production budget and agency fees.
The trio will create TV spots to air starting in April. Agency of record BBDO will produce a spot that provides an overview of "Dewmocracy." Those spots will be the first bit of traditional media for "Dewmocracy" in 10 months of activity.
There were many agencies, however, involved in the total process. Tribal DDB managed the design aspects while Katalyst managed outreach and content aggregation; Passenger managed DEW Labs (Flavor Nation) metrics and outreach; Motive handled grass-roots marketing and Undercurrent Flavor Nation mobilization. Mtn Dew handles all program strategy and execution internally.
'Dews' of crowdsourcing
TRANSPARENCY IS KING
The days when execs made decisions behind closed doors and expected people to rally behind them are gone.
When consumers told Mtn Dew they were using 12seconds.tv, the brand wasn't familiar with the outlet. So it investigated and started integrating the site into "Dewmocracy."
Once you've engaged consumers, you can't stop. Mtn Dew made an effort to let consumers know why it was taking their advice, as well as why it wasn't.
THE POWER OF THE RETWEET
After watching how Twitter spread word about Dewmocracy, the brand considers it a source of media.