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PepsiCo's Mountain Dew Backs Film

By Christopher Lawton
Wall Street Journal, 9/12/05

Later this month, movie theaters will start showing a trailer for an upcoming documentary on snowboarding, "First Descent," due to open in theaters nationwide on Dec. 2. What won't be readily apparent is that the film is, in part, a marketing push by PepsiCo soft drink Mountain Dew.

"First Descent" was financed by a newly formed film unit at Mountain Dew, MD Films, to create buzz for the highly caffeinated drink -- subtly. To ensure people don't perceive the film as a long commercial, Mountain Dew's name isn't overtly tied to the film. But the brand will make occasional appearances.

The film, being distributed by Universal Pictures, traces the history of snowboarding, told through the stories of five well-known snowboarders. Two of the athletes featured in the film are sponsored by Mountain Dew and wear the drink's logos on their helmets and snowboards. Mountain Dew is one of a number of sponsors of snowboarding events featured in the film, so the drink's signs will appear in those scenes. And moviegoers shouldn't be surprised if they see people drinking Mountain Dew in certain scenes: the drink was available for cast members to drink during shooting.

Mountain Dew's backing of the film is one more example of how marketers, increasingly questioning the effectiveness of traditional TV advertising, are coming up with marketing alternatives. Mountain Dew has long sponsored action sports events and used sports in its TV commercials. But now it's hoping a subtle association with a sports-related movie will give its brand more credibility with men who enjoy sports such as snowboarding, biking and surfing.

Such men, a key part of the drink's target market of men ages 18 to 24, are typically hard to reach through TV ads because they watch less TV than other segments of the population.

"Ultimately, we think this will do more over time to build our brand than anything overt we can do for this hard-to-reach audience," says John Galloway, vice president sports and media for Pepsi Cola North America. He wouldn't disclose how much Pepsi had invested in the film. Mountain Dew is now considering other film projects in sports and music.

To be sure, consumer-products companies have financed television shows for years. Hallmark Cards helped build its brand name through Hallmark Hall of Fame movies on television. In this case, however, Mountain Dew is deliberately taking a low profile in its involvement with the film, to avoid turning off consumers who dislike hard-sell marketing.

While the brand's appearance in certain scenes means it will likely register in moviegoers' minds, few are likely to realize that Mountain Dew made the film. Not even ads for the film, also paid for by Mountain Dew, mention the drink.

Still, Mountain Dew hasn't kept its involvement a complete secret: it screened the film for the nation's top skiers and snowboarders, among others, at ESPN's Winter X Games in January.

Marketing consultants say Mountain Dew is walking a tightrope. "It is not as simple as running an ad campaign. They have to understand that fine line between making sure it's not overcommercialized, and at the same time they don't want to be just anonymous in this whole investment," says John V. Allen of Highbridge Consulting in Connecticut.

Still, he says, a venture such as this, if done right, is a "solid way" to build a brand. "It's a longer, slower burn, but a much more effective one," he says.


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