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This is a self-funded case study using our Innovation Testing solution.
Mountain Dew has never been one to shy away from experimental flavors and collaborations — you only have to look at its first-to-market partnership with Taco Bell, or more recent limited edition Flamin’ Hot variant, as evidence of this. However, most of the brand’s previous undertakings have remained firmly within its carbonated and energy drink wheelhouse — until now.
The arrival of Hard Mtn Dew marks a pivot for the brand — entering the alcoholic beverage category for the first time and attempting to capitalize on the fast-growing seltzer segment. The shift fits with owner PepsiCo’s broader objective of catering to the widest possible range of tastes and occasions.
Backed by the renowned Boston Beer Company, the new beverage is available in 3 fruity flavors: Black Cherry, Watermelon, and “Original” Mountain Dew. While offering something fresh and original, it enters a category which has seen an influx of new entrants (both established players and newcomers) looking to capitalize on the category’s surging popularity.
So, will Hard Mtn Dew sparkle or go flat? To find out, we used our 3C’s methodology to predict its in-market potential:
It’s safe to assume Hard Mountain Dew’s first priority was to stand out from the crowd – and, in this respect, it succeeded. The addition of an alcoholic twist to the popular soda generated plenty of excitement, as did the range of fruity flavors on offer. However, the bold, dark, and masculine aesthetic — more akin to an energy drink — broke with the minimalistic approach adopted by the wider category. Additionally, not everyone was receptive to the new flavor combination, with over a fifth skeptical about the perceived taste and flavors on offer.
Leveraging elements from a brand’s existing range is key to any successful product extension — helping transfer established associations onto the new offering to build predisposition, while also ensuring it benefits from on-shelf recognizability.
Touches of the brand’s familiar green hue and classic flavor varieties helped reaffirm who was behind the new product. While creating a level of synergy for many, the predominantly dark aesthetic, wild animal depictions, and tall can format represented a disconnect with the brand for others. Together with this being a shift into a new and unchartered territory for the brand, ‘fit’ with Mountain Dew was below-average.
The proposition was clearly understood and perceived as bold and flavorsome, with the involvement of Mountain Dew establishing credibility. This helped it be seen to offer something different versus other category players. But crucially, amongst the younger cohort, it did more than just stand out; the greater popularity of classic Mountain Dew amongst this group led to them perceiving the product to be even more refreshing and tasty. This translated into a good level of predisposition as a result.
With the majority of new product innovation being incremental, extending into an adjacent category — from soda to alcohol — represents a much riskier undertaking. And while many similar launches have been deliberately gimmicky and largely designed to build social media hype and buzz, consumer response to Hard Mtn Dew suggests it’ll be something which endures.
This is a testament to the brand’s bold and distinctive personality; not every soda brand could so easily step into the alcohol category, but Mountain Dew has that license. Just as importantly, the launch of such category-defining innovations has implications for the broader masterbrand. Not only does Hard Mtn Dew offer incrementality, but it also reinforces the parent’s modern, edgy, and differentiated positioning — highlighting the lucrative halo great product innovation provides.