Enter the Seven Chambers

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In an attempt to revitalize and reinvent its Mountain Dew brand, PepsiCo and interactive agency WhittmanHart forged a surprising creative partnership with Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker to build a "Dewmocracy," a virtual community built around a story-based short film and role-playing game aimed at the 18-24 market.

"As we were looking at teens and millennial consumers and trying to figure out how to connect better with them, we noticed a lot of social undercurrents and emerging trends," says Mountain Dew marketing manager Marc Mason. "Some of the trends that we were trying to tap into specifically with this program were consumer need for self-expression, collaboration, social networking and obviously, consumers in control."

The 4-minute short explains the Dewmocracy back story, which revolves around a chosen one, or "seeker," whose mission is to defeat the iron-fisted corporate forces controlling the populace and return freedom of choice to the people. The narrative ties directly into the immersive, collaborative game (interface pictured above), which features seven "chambers" that participants must earn points in (via various challenges including answering questions, meeting mythical characters, etc) to conjure the power to ultimately select the flavor, color, name, logo, label, and tagline for the next Mountain Dew iteration.

To do so, gamers are required to create a specific feature in each chamber, with their decisions in the first three Chambers (Fire, Jungle and River) determining which one of three teams they'll join to create the new Dew drink in the next four. A national vote from members in each team will then determine the best team creation once all facets are included, leading to an ultimate vote at year's end for the best of the three final drinks.

According to Mason, the exhaustive plotline and experience of Dewmocracy can be much attributed to Whitaker, who rather than sit back as a casual celebrity shill, took on the majority of creative aspects for the exhaustive Dewmocracy effort with the aid of WhittmanHart and his own team of illustrators, designers, writers and producers. "We just didn't want to make it this simple flavor drop-down menu, so we got in touch with Forest, who was really interested in joining up. I think what he was really drawn to about the project was the ability to tell a story on multiple levels," says Mason. "He directed the four-minute movie and was integral in creating the script and the characters and the overall environments for each Chamber. Each Chamber correlates to a different aspect of the drink creation process. So him and his team that he assembled are really the creative visionaries behind how that all came together."

Mason says that until Whitaker stepped in and fleshed things out, Mountain Dew only had the skeletal outline and the initial Dewmocracy concept developed by Matti Leshem at L.A. branding/entertainment studio Protagonist. "The idea was conceptual initially. Through a variety of meetings, we were able to link up with [Whitaker] and then we actually developed the story in tandem with him. We had what we'll call the wireframe of the website, but we didn't have the full experience. We didn't have the stories and characters, so everything built from the original treatment that drove the four-minute movie and we tried to carry that over into this mythical online universe."

It was WhittmanHart's goal in turn was to translate Whitaker's blueprints for the web. "It was a very collaborative effort because Forest definitely had a creative vision for how the mythology of this story would be visually expressed," says Rebecca Coleman, the agency's VP of client services. "We took that and translated it into this interactive experience in Flash."

A Flash experience was the emphasis for the Chambers, universe and overall web experience itself according to Coleman. "Generally, Flash is used for a lot of slideshows and movement, but we wanted to use them for tools and for opening up new passageways in these experiences. We wanted to make an amazingly interactive experience that was faithful to the brand and that from a technology and creative perspective, used Flash programming and animation to its fullest potential. What we wanted to do was engage the user from the very beginning with really sophisticated animation, and then keep them interested with these mythology-based mini-games and drinking tools throughout." Coleman also reveals that each Chamber features not only several mini-games, but carefully placed "dewdrops" users can collect to earn more points. "Those earn you different levels of respect within the community," she says. "There are people talking about dewdrops on the boards, what the story is that's being uncovered and what they can do next with their drink tools." With the Dewmocracy game running through the end of the year, the votes will be tallied next spring, with the winning drink to be unveiled next summer around July. According to Mason, five weeks after the Dewmocracy launch in November, the traffic numbers are looking pretty positive. "We've got somewhere around 70,000 people that have registered for the site, and we've got an average time spent of 26-28 minutes which is unbelievable."

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