Brands need to think of celebrity & influencer strategies as complementary to each other: Vineet Sharma

Vineet Sharma Mountain Dew PepsiCo India

In conversation with Social Samosa, Vineet Sharma from Mountain Dew, Pepsico India sheds light on the evolving trends in the soft drinks category, content strategy for the brand, and the rationale behind the association with the celebrities and influencers for campaigns.

With the onset of summer in India, Mountain Dew launched the new variant, Mountain Dew Ice, featuring its brand ambassador, Hrithik Roshan in the campaign. As per the brand, the ‘Made for India’ Mountain Dew Ice has been developed to suit the Indian palate and is touted to be a significant milestone in PepsiCo India’s journey of innovation in the beverage category. We speak at length with Vineet Sharma, Category Director- Mountain Dew & Sting, PepsiCo India.

Edited Excerpts

From Darr Ke Aage Jeet to Jeetne Ki Aag to Thanda Dimaag – how has the advertising journey been for the brand? How did you cope with the challenges of the last year?

Ever since the introduction of Mountain Dew in India, the brand has aimed to inspire and encourage the youth of today to overcome their fears. The idea of daring, taking up challenges, adventure and exhilaration are entrenched in the brand DNA and this comes alive through the various campaigns and partnerships Mountain Dew has activated over the years. 

The brand always intends to salute the spirit of risk-taking and pushing boundaries to achieve success beyond fear and self-doubt. All of our communication, whether it is ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’, or ‘Jeetne Ki Aag and Thanda Dimaag’ as seen in the Mountain Dew Ice campaign as well as properties such as Dew Arena have attempted to remain consistent with this belief. 

Driving consumer awareness and engagement through effective advertising has always been our priority and in the past few years, we used a mix of traditional and digital advertising methods to speak to our consumers.

However, in 2020, with the external environment being as it were, our marketing plans were focused slightly more towards digital as the ecosystem changed propelling online content consumption to an all-time high. 

Please take us through the latest Mountain Dew campaign that offers the proposition of Jeetne ki Aag aur Thanda Dimaag Har Chunauti Hogi Paar – from insight to execution – how did it pan out?

Mountain Dew is a youth brand, and all our strategies emanate from core consumer insights. Mountain Dew Ice, in turn, has been formulated after extensive research, which found that Indian consumers immensely prefer the lemon flavor with a punch and are seeking beverages that offer a taste closest to the real lemon experience.

The brand aims to bring the best of both worlds to the consumers – the fun of bubbles and fizz along with the goodness of juice. 

When it came to building a campaign for Mountain Dew Ice, we were certain that it had to build on the product’s refreshing codes, while being an extension of the ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’ philosophy of the Dew master brand. Simply put, with the new campaign, we have taken the philosophy of ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’ and attempted to give it an ‘Ice’ twist. The idea is to inspire the youth that they can overcome any obstacles in their way if they just keep a cool mind along with the fire to win while facing their fears head-on.

What was the idea behind roping in Hrithik Roshan as the brand ambassador? 

Hrithik Roshan has had a long-standing association with the Mountain Dew master brand and has been a significant part of the brand’s journey in the last few years. He is an embodiment of the brand’s philosophy of ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’.

Roshan reflects the daring, bold, and fearless persona of the brand with an element of vulnerability that the Dew hero needs to overcome. All of this made him the perfect fit for Mountain Dew Ice’s first-ever campaign in India. 

A lot has been said about the pandemic changing consumer behavior, how is this applicable to the soft-drink category at this time?

The pandemic re-shaped us and the way brands and consumers interact in unprecedented ways. The exceptional times made all of us face a new reality – new behaviors emerged, consumption patterns evolved, and brands had to re-think and re-evaluate strategies to adapt to the consumer disposition. 

In the last year, safety and hygiene took precedence across all interactions. In-home consumption rose as home became the new social hub, affordability became a key factor for consumer decisions across categories, and consumers started choosing brands that rose to the occasion at hand.

Even as we move forward, some of the trends we anticipate in terms of purchase and consumption are: 

  • Flight to digital and omnichannel- research has shown that consumers are showing increased intent to purchase online 
  • Increased focus on convenience, value, and safety, and hygiene 
  • A balanced mix of at-home and away-from-home consumption- While at-home consumption increased in the last year, we will also look forward to the recovery of the away-from-home segment as people step outside their homes, relatively more. 

It was said that the brand launched its first TVC in India with Mountain Dew Ice. What would be the marketing strategy at this time? Would social media play a significant role in reaching out to audiences? How?

We have always used a mix of traditional and digital advertising methods to engage and interact with consumers, including social media. 

Social media will also continue to play a crucial role in the marketing of the brand in India. The TVC launch was supported by robust social media communication to dial-up conversations for the new product.

Hrithik Roshan had even posted an ‘unboxing’ video on his social media handles to draw the attention of netizens towards Mountain Dew Ice. The video shows him gearing up, with a life-size ice block placed in front of him.

How did digital experiences and social media help you keep people hooked and hopeful?

As a brand, we have always adopted a digital forward approach for our campaigns. Leveraging social media is an important aspect of our communication and we will continue to focus on it for future campaigns as well. 

Consumer research last year (during the various lockdown situations in the country) showed us that consumers wanted content that is fun, light, and entertaining. They also wanted brands to step up and rise to the challenge the entire world was facing. 

Our campaigns last year took a cue from this. For instance, we launched the Mountain Dew ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’ anthem on Independence Day which was a musical ode to saluting the resilience of India during tough times. To further make the anthem engaging for consumers, we collaborated with some of the most popular celebrities & influencers in the country.

Also read: Authenticity is one of the biggest things that a brand can own: Rohit Ohri, FCB India

Please take us through your content strategy and communication plan for 2021.

2020 paved the way for dynamic changes in the industry. The past year has completely redefined communication and how people perceive it too. The emergence of new and advanced digital platforms along with varied tools have pushed brands to go the ‘digital way’ as people rely on it, heavily. Due to this growing trend, our marketing plans are also skewed towards digital.

For this year, while the brand will be building on its philosophy of ‘Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai’, we have also unveiled our first ad campaign for Mountain Dew Ice which offers the proposition of ‘Jeetne ki Aag aur Thanda Dimaag’.

Overall, the brand will continue to inspire the youngsters to overcome their fears and achieve great success through different touchpoints on social media – whether it by leveraging our brand handles, those of brand ambassadors, or via influencer collaborations in 2021.

Even in the past, Mountain Dew has associated with celebrated actors and influencers. What works better for the brand – Celebrities or Influencers and why?

In today’s social media landscape, it is all about achieving the right balance. A brand needs to have the right mix of celebrities as well as macro, micro, and nano influencers.

Celebrities have a mass appeal whereas influencers are amplifiers who can drive engagement with a brand. Influencers give their twist to a brand message, and this makes the message more relatable and ‘stickier’ for consumers.

Brands need to think of celebrity and influencer strategies as complementary to each other, rather than in two separate silos. 

Are there any tools and criteria put in place to understand the ROI to gauge influencer/celebrity marketing strategy? Please shed some light on this.

Influencers are an intrinsic part of all major marketing campaigns today. However, it is important for brands to carefully select the influencers – the influencers’ content has to not only be creative but also connect seamlessly with the brand ethos.

As a brand, our top priority is to collaborate with influencers who post authentic and fresh content, yield results in form of consumer engagement and brand recall on social media, as well as have good reach.

In terms of ad spends, what does your marketing plan for this quarter look like?

Mountain Dew’s marketing spends will continue to be a mix of traditional as well as digital advertising mediums. Significant spending will be allotted for digital including social media as well as other mediums such as TV and outdoor. 

How would you define the ‘Marketer of Today’? How much of your marketing skills have evolved with the changing times? Your Mantra for success?

I believe that the ‘Marketer of Today’ is agile. As marketers, we need to understand that change is the only constant. The brand landscape is accustomed to rapid changes and marketers need to have an appetite for risk-taking to succeed. That is the mantra I have followed throughout my career and would encourage budding marketers to consider. 

Top 3 tips you would like to share with the industry leaders for marketing in the soft-drink industry in the post-COVID world?

  • Be authentic and innovative 
  • Invest in the right channels 
  • Always have a ‘digital too’ approach

With the second wave of the pandemic, what will the way forward in this summer for the brand?

As the way forward, we will continue to communicate with Mountain Dew Ice consumers through multiple touchpoints – whether it is through the television campaign, by curating topical content on our social media handles, or through collaborations with influencers.