Mountain Dew Hands Over Its Brand to Fans

Companies like Mountain Dew are discovering the value of user-generated product design.

If the phrase "user-generated marketing" scares you, you're not alone. Designing advertising and marketing campaigns culled from ideas and information without customers' input has been standard protocol for years. With the advent of social media and the ease of which the Internet helps to create and foster communities, more marketers are removing the guardrails and realizing the benefits of leveraging fans and engaged customers for everything from conceptualizing products to designing campaigns.

Peter LaMotte, president of GeniusRocket, which this summer hosted a crowdsourcing campaign to invent a new phrase for "crowdsourcing," says that companies are seeing the value in a larger, more diverse set of variables. He says that crowdsourcing is evolving. Companies dabble with it at first because it's an affordable option to big-budget marketing campaigns. When immersed, they start to see the real benefit of it. "The real value involves the concepts and ideology. People can turn to their customer base to gain insight into how people are perceiving their products," LaMotte says. "It's not just about opening it to the masses; it's opening to the select and skilled masses for whatever the requirement may be."

Because this concept of ideology is still so new, marketers, however, are afraid to let go of their brands, LaMotte adds.

Christine Crandall, senior vice president of marketing for Accept Corp., says that's about to change. She says using social media for ideation hasn't really taken hold on a broad scale until recently. "It's gone from 'an interesting social media thingy,' to 'We get it, and now we're translating that into dollars and cents' versus 'This feels good,'" Crandall says. "Companies are no longer willing to say, 'My products will no longer make it.' Now it's all about, 'We're going to build what customers want to buy.'"

Mountain Dew builds a flavor nation

Mountain Dew's marketing brand team started a grassroots user-generated movement in July 2009 to do just that-launch a product that customers want to buy. Called "Dewmocracy," the year-and-a-half-long, seven-stage interactive multimedia strategy aimed to develop, design, and market a new drink.

During Stage 1, "Truck Stop," the marketing team reached out to a group of 50 Dew fanatics to help develop the next Dew flavor. These fans had submitted video clips and emails for a chance to participate. They received home-tasting kits with seven flavors and recorded themselves sampling the flavors, and then uploaded the clips to YouTube and Facebook. Additionally, a mobile truck traveled to 17 U.S. markets to give consumers a chance to vote on the seven flavors. The selection was narrowed to three flavors.

During Stage 2, "Make Your Voice Heard," the marketing team reached out to the company's 4,000 most engaged fans, asking them to describe on why they love their favorite Mountain Dew beverage. These fans formed a community that the marketing team named Dew Labs. Angie Gentile, Mountain Dew marketing manager, says that to find those 4,000 fans the team emailed its subscriber base of two million, as well as contacted customers through Facebook and Twitter. "We are about creating a passionate community," Gentile says.

Each of the three flavors needed a color, so Stage 3 was "Shoot Your Shade." The marketing team sent the Dew Labs members an 18-color palette and a color pour video and asked them to select the one that best matched each beverage. They were asked to "shoot your shade" (i.e., create a video), post it online, and then Mountain Dew customers picked their favorites on Facebook.

Next, each beverage needed a name, which became Stage 4, the "Name Game." Dew Labs members submitted lists of suggestions. Once Mountain Dew's legal department vetted the names, the Dew Labs members voted on their favorite. The final names selected entered into a Twitter race, and the names with the most followers won; in the case of one beverage leaving the name "White Out" to win over "Typhoone" and "Distortion." "The [Dew Labs] fans created Twitter accounts for each of the nine names and then went out to their fans and friends and engaged with them, encouraging them to become fans of their flavors," Gentile says.

In Stage 5, "Dew Art," the marketing team once again called on fans; this time to design the packaging. Gentile says the company held an open call on Facebook for independent designers to submit a can for Mountain Dew. "This was an opportunity for them to get involved with a big company," she says. "One of our tenets is self-expression and creativity, so we thought it was a good idea."

The designer list was narrowed to 10 by the Dew Labs community. After the designers submitted their designs, Dew Labs members along with the Mountain Dew brand team, created the packaging for each of the three flavors. This process took three months. "It started with the fans getting on the phone with the designers and brand team," Gentile says. "They were fully entrenched in everything that the brand team would go through."

Stage 6, "Creative Juices," focused on advertising. In the same spirit, the marketing team opened up the submissions to small advertising agencies, film students, and fans, asking them to submit a 12-second spot. Dew Labs voted for their favorites and chose six finalists. The finalists created short pitch videos for Dew Labs to decide which ad creator to work with. The winners then worked with Dew Labs and the brand team to develop the spot.

The final stage 7, "Vote in the Flavor Battle," geared up for the launch of the new product. "It's taking 4,000 fans who were engaged since day one and helping them to go out and spread the word," Gentile says. Fans voted for their favorite of the three final flavors on Facebook and on Gentile says that the Dew Labs members worked with the brand team to better understand the social media landscape and how to encourage additional voting.

In September Mountain Dew announced that White Out won as the new beverage after 2.9 million people voted. Gentile says that looking back on the process, the biggest thing she learned from Dewmocracy is the importance of having an open and continuous dialogue. Because Mountain Dew spent a year engaging fans and people about the new product, word of mouth spread before the drink even hit the shelves. Mountain Dew's Facebook page increased by 800,000 fans in less than a year, and the company used no paid advertising. "Many people would think it's a huge risk to open the brand to consumers," Gentile says.

She adds that the company doesn't view this just as a crowdsourcing exercise, but rather a true partnership in which the company and its customers collaborate at every stage. "In the end, it ended up being extremely rewarding."