I signed up for the BzzAgent campaign for Diet Mountain Dew assuming I would soon be getting a couple of coupons for a bottle of the soda and I could test it scientifically through a series of carefully measured and repeatable experiments. Instead of a coupon for a free can or bottle, I received this:
Yes, that's right, two cans of diet caffeinated goodness, wrapped up tight in bubble wrap coffins. I imagine it would have been cheaper to ship the coupons (which were contained within, obscured by the mummy soda), but I only test the product and spread buzz. I am not required to know or care about shipping regulations.
When I informed Melanie of this campaign, she immediately stated plans of mutilating the cans in a variety of ways, testing the aluminum for tensile strength and the ability to conduct sound waves via a length of string. I gathered I would be forking over a few bucks, as two cans would hardly be enough to accommodate her craft needs, but she agreed to actually try the soda before experimenting further.
For the sake of full disclosure, I should state that I happen to like diet soda quite a bit, especially diet soda made by Pepsi. I converted from the corn syrup colas years before and - along with moving out of my parents' house, cooking my own food, and taking vitamins - dropped twenty-five pound effortlessly and in a matter of a couple of months. I occasionally use caffeinated diet sodas as a good way of remaining alert at the Day Job. I do not have phenylketonuria nor the sensitivity to aspartame that afflicts one of my siblings and, after thoroughly researching claims on the internet, consider it utter bunk that it is harmful. In deference to Melanie's artistic inclinations, I stock non-caffeinated cola and seltzer (as these will not make her jittery), but like the hard stuff myself. I was a trifle put off by the fact that Mountain Dew earned itself a place in dental vocabulary for causing tooth decay (Mountain Dew mouth), but I was only testing two sugar-free cans and did not feel I was therefore putting my life or oral hygiene at much risk.
Diet Mountain Dew (or, according to the cans and as of late 2008, Mnt Dew, using an abbreviation for "mountain" accepted by no one anywhere so I will ignore it for the rest of this review) happens to have even more caffeine than might be found in my diet colas, which is points in its favor. It had been years since I had tasted Mountain Dew in its sugary glory, but was never much of a fan. It had a reputation built more on corporate planning than positive word-of-mouth as far as I could tell; I don't need my soda to be EXTREME!!!! or be the beverage of choice for snowboarding videogame programmers, I just need it to taste good and, possibly, keep me awake during two-hour long meetings about item specs for testing booklets.
As the bubble wrap didn't cool the cans, I decided to unwrap and refrigerate the cans for a solid day in order of fairness with testing. Then, feeling it was wrong to test it alone, I gathered Melanie and Hannah as my fellow test subjects.
SUBJECT 1: Me, 28-year-old male, writer on an editorial team. Extremeness quotient 2.5.
I felt it most authentic to drink straight from the can, to "pound it," as it were. I swallowed a manly gulp and waited. I didn't feel extreme. I did, however, feel like my sports drink had fermented in acid rain. As demonstrated below, I looked askance at the can, wondering if the "Mnt" meant something new and unpleasant. It does not remind me of mountains or dew. It does remind me, quite pungently, of why some people hate diet sodas, tasting so far beyond artificial that it could be an alien beverage. Later, I remembered that "Mountain Dew" was originally a euphemism for moonshine and can well imagine this as a soda one homebrewed in their bathtub. I search the label for what Diet Mountain Dew is trying to taste like and settle on something derived of orange juice. If this is the case, they need to keep trying.
SUBJECT 2: Melanie, 19-year-old female, student of environmental science at a liberal arts college. Extremeness quotient: 6.
Having seen Subject 1 looking as though he were about to admonish the can for lying to him, Subject 2 was negatively biased against the soda, but was willing to give it a sporting go. She took a sip, did a ridiculous face of approval, then stuck her tongue out and admitted it wasn't very good. When we poured it into a glass, she stated that the color reminded her of a Pan-Galactic Garble Blaster and wondered if it was too late to convince Mountain Dew to change its marketing to appeal to the geek contingency. She decided that the estate of Douglas Adams might not be willing to allow this license, despite that last Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie. Told Subject 1 to stop drinking it out of the glass in hopes it would taste better this way, ignored him when he referred to it as Diet Slurm in hopes of appealing to a different fandom. She stated that she was no longer interested in making things from the cans nor baking with it, as this would imply we would have to drink more.
SUBJECT 3: Hannah, 26-year-old female, former shipyard worker and future Navy soldier. Extremeness quotient: 6.
She refused to drink any of it. She acknowledged that it was an unnatural color (bright yellow-green, referred to as "radioactive pee color") and wondered how it would look under a blacklight.
SUBJECT 4: Mint plant, 1-year-old hermaphrodite. Extremeness quotient: 1.
It was looking a little sickly, so I poured a little Diet Mountain Dew in its pot. It shriveled and died days later. This could be a coincidence. Plants are not extreme.
In further effort at fairness, I endeavored to ask friends, family, and random strangers on the internet what they thought of when they imagined a Diet Mountain Dew drinker. Below are some of the responses:
In the end, we poured the glass of soda into the sink (it cleaned dishes on its way to the drain!) and, when I found out hours later that I'd left some soda in the can, poured that out as well. To my surprise, being at room temperature for five hours did not decrease its fizziness in the least. I'm not totally sure this qualifies as points in its favor.
I put out the other can and the coupons at the break room table at my job. Within a matter of minutes, both had vanished. I assume someone from the graphics department recognized this beverage from their homeland and devoured it.
In the end - while I won't be purchasing any Diet Mountain Dew in the future, preferring to stick to colas or lemon-lime sodas as the occasion demands - I do not think I am the target market here. The sort of people who will drink Diet Mountain Dew (12-30 year old men, according to what I've found) are those who already love Mountain Dew and might want to avoid the calories. You don't drink a Mountain Dew product because you are looking for an all natural beverage. You drink it because you happen to like the taste. It is rather telling that, when Doritos opted to make a mystery flavor, they made it out of Mountain Dew. While I can understand drinking cola or lemon-lime soda with a meal at a nice restaurant, I don't believe any place outside of Taco Bell keeps Mountain Dew in the fountains.
It is a beverage that seems to be a prisoner of its own advertizing, overlooked by most consumers as they do not think they are the type to code for fourteen hours straight and then go skateboard down a steep hill without a helmet. Even giving it a fair shake, the best I can imagine is that it is an acquired taste, possibly a taste one only tries to acquire for the caffeine content and peer acceptance.