Mtn Dew Tries Unbranded Pre-Rolls and Brad Jakeman Approves

Dew's New NBA Campaign Uses Russell Westbrook as PepsiCo Begins Sponsorship

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Mtn Dew Kickstart: Powerstance
Mtn Dew Kickstart: Powerstance  Credit: PepsiCo

Less than two weeks after PepsiCo exec Brad Jakeman ripped the industry's use of pre-roll advertising, a soda brand within his company is launching a new campaign that uses, you guessed it, pre-roll.

But the campaign for Mtn Dew -- which kicks off the brand's new NBA sponsorship -- attempts to use pre-roll in a way that gets around Mr. Jakeman's top complaint: That the oft-used tactic is "a model of polluting content that is not sustainable," as he put it in a fiery speech at an Association of National Advertisers event on Oct. 15.

The campaign plugs Mtn Dew Kickstart and features NBA star Russell Westbrook. Rather than using branded pre-roll, the brand is deploying a two-minute pre-roll spot that is devoid of Dew imagery. The ad shows Mr. Westbrook dressed in a bright green suit and doing a "powerstance," a new move coined by Mtn Dew. Mr. Westbrook moves through random scenes, like a beach, a swamp and a moon landing.

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Like regular YouTube TrueView pre-roll spots, viewers can skip the ad after five seconds. But Dew brand leaders are hoping that the pre-roll spot is quirky and mysterious enough that people watch it till the end. At that point they can click to view a more traditional spot (below), as Mr. Westbrook dares viewers to "go ahead, watch my ad." The campaign is by BBDO, New York.

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Mr. Jakeman, who is PepsiCo's global beverage group president, said in his ANA talk that pre-roll was "my particular peeve. I hate it."

But in an email on Tuesday he said the Mtn Dew work is "a perfect example of what I was talking about at ANA: How can we make commercial content that is at least as exciting and amazing as the non-commercial content that it is placed within/before."

He added: "I don't have anything against pre-roll per se, but about bad pre-roll which interrupts the consumer's experience of quality content. This was precisely the brief the team worked to: How do we produce amazing and compelling content for pre-roll that is at least as cool and engaging as the content it precedes."

Other marketers have tried similar tactics to get beyond the banality of traditional pre-roll ads. Geico, for instance, won a Grand Prix at Cannes this year for creating a pre-roll that shows a family around a dinner table. A voiceover declares "You can't skip this Geico ad because it's already over." Then a dog proceeds to devour every bit of food on the table, as the family is frozen in place.

Tic Tac recently deployed a pre-roll ad disguised to look like that familiar screen with a spinning center that plays before an online video loads. But in this case, the spinning center is made of Tic Tacs.

Mtn Dew's pre-roll will only appear to viewers searching for terms related to Mr. Westbrook, said Sadira Furlow, Mtn Dew's director of brand marketing. "Rather than leaving the viewer wanting to skip a piece [of content] when they see the immediate signs of branding, this new approach actually flips that consumer behavior on its head," she said. "We are drawing them into the content and enticing them to click through and view the full ad."

Dew will also use regular 15-second branded pre-roll ads. But those will only appear when viewers use search terms related to Mtn Dew, she said. And after viewers see those pre-rolls once, they will be retargeted with the unbranded two-minute pre-roll spot, she said.

The ads mark the beginning of PepsiCo's NBA sponsorship, which was announced in April. PepsiCo, which replaced longtime NBA sponsor Coca-Cola, will make Dew the lead NBA brand. But the marketer also plans to deploy NBA marketing on other brands including Aquafina, Brisk, Ruffles and Doritos.

For Dew, the deal marks a mainstream marketing phase following years of leveraging lower-profile extreme sports such as skateboarding. But Ms. Furlow suggested hoops and skateboarding mix because the brand found that a good chunk of NBA fans are also fans of action sports.

As for the ad itself, Mtn Dew execs are hoping Mr. Westbrook's "powerstance" move catches on in popular culture. Some sports media outlets have already likened it to "Tebowing."

The hand-on-hip "powerstance" gesture is meant to be a sign of confidence. Dew did not ask Mr. Westbrook to do the move on court during games. But "as a brand we can only hope that he continues to embrace it," Ms. Furlow said.

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