In creative terms, 10 years is quite a long time to spend with any product. In the case of Bill Bruce and Pepsi's Mountain Dew, it's the longest run ever for a soft drink campaign. Now an ECD at BBDO, Bruce, 42, remains the gatekeeper of Dew advertising, still writing the majority of spots himself. Over the years, the "Do the Dew" work has resulted in double-digit sales growth, putting the $5 billion brand third in the soda category, bested only by the Coke and Pepsi flagship brands. The Harvard Business Review has even placed Dew in the iconic leagues of Apple, Nike, Harley-Davidson and Volkswagen. Not bad for a fluorescent green, citrus-sweet, overcaffeinated drink with a hokey name. Then again, for the target, those are precisely its charms.
The Dew started doin' in 1993, when Bruce, then a copywriter partnered with Steve Fong, had sold the "Done That" spot for Dew's diet counterpart. While the film itself paid reverence to the feats of Xtreme sportsters, it also featured the four Dew Dudes, who scoffed at the stunts, which didn't compare to drinking Diet Dew. The campaign resonated so boldly that people started to associate it with the main product, so before long it shifted to the mother soda. The brand, with its former hillbilly connotations ("Yahoo, Mountain Dew!"), found just the right moment to become the irreverent bad boy of soda pop, deftly exploiting the emerging slacker and grunge rock scene of the time. Bruce likens the campaign's early success to the Beastie Boys, who found a similar stride. "The Beasties made fun of rap and then were embraced by it. I never thought that they took themselves too seriously. While we were knocking alternative sports, we also, in a weird way, embraced it. We paid a certain amount of reverence to filming them, but no reverence in the spot at all. And the client was just looking for something that would say, 'This is new, try it.' "
Ever since, "Do the Dew" has managed to ride the adrenalized wave of youth culture like it was Vin Diesel in a can. "I think part of the reason for its longevity is that it's had a certain amount of flexibility that doesn't get old and tired," says Bruce. "We've built an architecture such that we can use or not use certain things from the past, whether it's the Dew Dudes, the flying cans, the way they drink it or the music. The very early stuff had this kind of slacker/grunge mentality, of kids aimlessly going through life. But as times changed, kids became much more goal oriented and focused. As the work has developed, it's reflected this change, from this slack-jawed 'Whoa,' to being much more purposeful, but still not taking itself too seriously."
Special-effects blockbusters are the key ingredient in the Dew diet these days, but the campaign still manages to accommodate other approaches, like the quietly brilliant Davey and Goliath stop-motion takeoff, which can still find a home in the brand's high octane-driven universe. The spot, says Bruce, "was a leap for the client, because it didn't have the same cues, but I think the brand is much deeper than alternative sports, people screaming into the camera, and loud music. It embodies a spirit that you can reflect in many different ways, whether it's Davey and Goliath or a car explosion." The spots, many of which he developed with longtime creative partner Doris Cassar, have also managed to filter clever old-school references through a self-reflexively ironic point of view: Mel Torm‚ croons while leaping off a Vegas hotel; Xtreme athletes spin and twirl Busby Berkeley style; the Dudes pay homage to Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Meanwhile, Bruce keeps his eye on tomorrow. His favorite Mountain Dew spot, he says, is "the next one." After 10 years, during which he's aged out of the 15-40 Dew demo, he's still grabbing for another bullet-fast can. "Every day you have to beat what you did before. I don't ever feel relaxed. There's got to be something better to do, but that's part of who I am. I never settle."