Mountain Dew puts fans behind the wheel in new NASCAR VR experience

Brand extends "DEWcision 2016" summer campaign with virtual reality race

Mountain Dew is giving NASCAR fans a chance to race alongside superstars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott in a new virtual reality extension of its "DEWcision 2016" summer campaign.

The VR experience lets users get behind the wheel to help determine which new Mountain Dew flavor will be added to the brand’s permanent lineup, Pitch Black or Baja Blast. The game gives users different worlds to drive through, resulting in up to nine unique experiences.

While Mountain Dew has experimented with VR technology in the past, the NASCAR effort, created by Firstborn, is the first VR experience created as part of a larger campaign for the brand. "DEWcision 2016" launched last month with a commercial featuring Elliott, representing Pitch Black, and Kahne, representing Baja Blast, competing to try to get Dale, who is the neutral party in this debate, to vote for their flavor.  Viewers were asked to vote for their choice on social media. And to kick off the promotion, the three stars drove Mountain Dew-themed cars in a NASCAR race last month.

"This whole experience is about putting the power in the fans hands, literally and virtually," said Stinson Parks, digital marketing manager at Mountain Dew. "You are literally able to get behind the wheel of one of our NASCAR cars and sit next to three of the most well-known drivers in racing."

The NASCAR project represents an evolution in the brand’s VR storytelling, offering users for the first time the ability to control the action in the experience. The brand’s earlier VR projects featuring 360-degree video of snowboarding and skateboarding experiences were "passive," said Parks. For example, users could see a helicopter taking off from a snow-capped mountain in last year’s snowboarding project. The NASCAR VR uses Oculus Rift technology and Unreal gaming software to give users an interactive, real-time racing experience.

"It makes a much more tangible world," added Jay Harwood, co-director and CG supervisor at Firstborn.

It’s a new frontier that Parks said helps connect the brand to consumers in an innovative, exhilarating way. It’s more video game, than it is an observational marketing platform. "It’s a nice way of continuing the story of bringing the DEWcision campaign to life, but in a much more immersive, much more engaging, choose-your-own-adventure, game-like virtual reality experience," he said.

Users can drive through rockslides, on trippy beach scenes and even underneath whales. When the race begins, Earnhardt Jr. is seated next to the driver, but the passenger changes to one of the other drivers based on the user’s flavor choice.

The idea for the VR race came out of discussions with Firstborn about the technology, said Parks. "If this is all about engaging hands-on with this new VR technology," he said, "what better hands-on experience is there than racing?"

As soon as the Facebook’s new Oculus technology came out in March, Firstborn got its hands on a developer kit for Mountain Dew. "We were chomping at the bit to do something cool like this," Parks said.

The brand wanted to be the first to put this technology to use in a campaign. "We scanned other virtual reality and 360 video experiences that have been done with racing but nothing yet has been put out there where not only are you in the car, but you’re controlling the car," said Parks. "It’s definitely that hands-on, choose your adventure, content meets gaming blending into one."

The experience will launch at the JR Motorsports Fan Day in Mooresville, North Carolina, on May 26 and 27, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in attendance. At the same time, the experience will appear on Facebook 360, YouTube 360 and Samsung Milk VR platforms.  It will also be featured on a new VR hub the brand is launching on its web site.

As part of the campaign, Mountain Drew is also partnering with Shazam, which his introducing its own VR player. Users can use to the app to scan bottles of limited-time Mountain Dew flavors to unlock scenes from the 360-degree video, which will also be made available for Google cardboard.  

The campaign ends July 9.  Mountain Dew will be partnering with the NASCAR drivers and social media influencers to announce the winning flavor.