I recently went out for a lovely dinner with my family to a chain restaurant that was definitely not a fucking Applebee’s, and it was pretty good. While it wasn’t a sports bar, there were multiple televisions in every direction you looked. In between all the muted sports clips and the flurry of statistics splashed across all of the screens, I saw something else I had not seen in a long time: actual television commercials. I probably haven’t watched any actual television since March Madness, and being forced to sit through a block of commercials instead of the normal 5 seconds of someone screaming “SWITCH TO LIBERTY MUTUAL TODAY! NOW ENJOY YOUR CLIP OF SOMEONE CUTTING MAGIC SAND WITH A BUTCHER KNIFE!” blew my mind. The first commercial that I really paid attention to (in between sips of delicious Guiness milkshake) was one for Pepsi’s DEWnited contest. This was a promotion that was used to drum up the interest in Liberty Brew by featuring unique artwork depicting all 50 states on the labels of bottles of regular Dew. Collect all fifty unique labels and WIN $100! I’m not gonna lie, on the surface it sounded pretty enticing, and I immediately messaged the writing team asking why we haven’t covered it, much less even heard of it.
We quickly did the math (since my math was done poorly), and discovered that the overall cost of purchasing 50 bottles of Mtn Dew would negate any real “prize” earned, unless you consider having to administer yourself insulin is a prize that you win along the way. Instead of trying to get all 50 labels, you’re probably just be better off switching to drinking something healthy like kombucha or tasty drain cleaner. I was going to link directly to the contest page itself, but it turns out that the DEWnited Contest was discontinued as of August 10th. If you only managed to get 48 labels, I hate to be the one to tell you, but your lifelong dream of having both diabetes and $100 in your pocket is cancelled.
Some soda promotions are a little more entertaining and a bit more thought-out than DEWnited was. Somewhere along the way, an ad executive discovered that one of the best forms of advertising can come from combining soda directly with it’s partner in crime, video games! The earliest video game tie-in that I can remember actually participating in was the Final Fantasy XII/Pepsi contest that was decades ago. Top prizes were copies of the game, PlayStation systems, and some really cool 32 ounce plastic cups. I won a white FF XII t-shirt from this contest, and it was actually pretty cool. It took so long to arrive by mail that by the time I finally got it, I had already bought and completed the game and already forgotten about it. If the piss poor care in t-shirt shipping was any indication, I bet the lucky few that won PlayStation systems are still waiting for them to arrive to this very day.
Fast forward a few more years and a few system generations later, and Pepsi would grace us with an even greater contest that would lead me to a life of burglary and addiction (which is just a fancy way of saying that it worked).
While the “Dub the Dew” contest almost gave us our first Hitler-centric soda, I prefer to wax nostalgic on a different Pepsi promotion that actually had everything in spades.
Something that had danger…
Plenty of excitement….
….and DLC codes! (back when the ‘net still wasn’t considered a utility, either!).
If you haven’t figured it out already, I was head over heels for the Pepsi Rock Band promotion!
I’ve loved the shit out of rhythm games as long as I can remember- I cut my teeth on games like Parappa, DDR, Frequency, Bust A Groove and Karaoke Revolution, despite that particular game giving me a bad case of PTSD every time I hear Joan Jett. These great games were followed by Guitar Hero, which was the cat’s meow to a musician of my stature. I got to play the exact same type of rhythm game, but this time I got to use a clumsy plastic guitar to do it! The only thing that was a bummer about Hero was that (just like in Karaoke Revolution) is that they had to re-record musical tracks as with studio musicians to save money on licensing, and these half-assed versions could be pretty hit or miss. The novelty of tapping loudly on a plastic instrument in time with a shitty Stray Cats cover band for the 30th time began to wear thin, and eventually my Guitar Hero controller began to collect dust.
That is, until a new challenger appeared.
Rock Band totally ripped off the main schtick of Guitar Hero and shot it up with an armful of black tar heroin. Backed by MTV, they not only focused on the guitar, but on an entire box full of fake plastic instruments! Most importantly, they also got the rights and the legal clearance to use the real studio recorded tracks from the actual bands and labels themselves! Upon learning this, I hucked everything I owned that was Guitar Hero-related into the nearest dumpster and instead went balls deep into the world of Rock Band. That’s how much I can’t stand fucking cover versions.
The first Rock Band game was something that we embraced with both open arms and an open bar. I remember inviting friends and family over every weekend to hammer out some Chili Peppers tunes on plastic instruments, all while getting positively shitfaced on plenty of plastic bottled rum in the process. Rock Band was the last genuine “everybody play video games together in the same room” game that I got to really enjoy as a group activity. Before long, this living, breathing kinship with other humans would be replaced by children screaming homophobic slurs at me over Xbox Live.
There were around 60 songs that came with the game, but they figured out that pancake makeup cash was only gonna come from allowing you to craft your very own customized collection of songs: by using microtransactions! I didn’t go fully online with my Xbox 360 for quite some time, because we were not about to actually pay for this internet shit, and could only steal wifi signal from the old people in our apartment complex that hadn’t put any security on their signal. Our sketchy (but free) connection was not fast enough to run anything game-related, and this hampered me from buying and downloading tracks. I was pretty happy with most of the songs that came on the Rock Band disc, and to be completely honest, after a few hours (and several bottles of rum) they all started to sound like Iggy Pop falling down the stairs anyways.
One morning at work, I stopped into the break room to start my day with a nutritious breakfast of Mtn Dew, and splurged by getting a 20 ounce bottle out of the machine. I hazily started to unscrew the cap for a swig when I noticed the top of the cap had an all-too-familiar symbol printed on it….
All of the 20 ounce Pepsi products had a Rock Band instrument logo on the caps, which means they all had a secret code printed on the inside of them. The first day that I was woke to this contest, I remember getting a couple more caps throughout the day and I reminded myself to get on my shitty internet at home to see what all this was about.
Once you finally had all your caps and codes, it was finally time for the moment of truth. You would log onto pepsirockband.com, enter the code, and patiently wait to see the outcome, and with shitty internet speeds like we had, it really ramped up the anticipation factor.
The result was made known to you by a shitty Pepsi representation of what a group of faux rockers playing plastic instruments intensely would slowly let you know that YOU WON. They’d do this by screaming and smashing on fake drums with the gusto of intensity that would actually make you scream with happiness as your dreams of playing red blue red orange blue red blue green over Tom Petty was finally going to happen. After the video was done, you clicked over and claimed your 25 character download code for the song of your choice. As long as you didn’t fuck up somewhere along the way writing down one of the letters, you got some free shit and it was pure bliss.
But, sometimes it would really suck.
For the first few seconds, Plastic Instrument Coldplay almost has you thinking that you have a winning code on your hands, and then instead decides to shit all over you. There were at least ten different versions of the YOU LOST reveal, each being more condescending than the last.
Getting a loser video sucked, but in the first month of this contest, I swear it probably only happened around five times, meaning that I won free Rock Band DLC at around a 97% success rate. This is where the addiction part of this contest absolutely took over. I could not justify spending ten bucks on brominated vegetable oil drinks every day, so instead, I resorted to lying, cheating, and (gasp!) stealing in order to get my fix.
Around that time at work, I was gaining access to previously restricted areas, so my area for searching had improved greatly. I could peek inside any office or cubicle at my own discretion, looking for any 20 ounce bottle of Pepsi product. I always seemed to have a moral quandary whenever I would find an unattended Pepsi. If it was already opened, I would pocket the cap and leave that person wondering what the fuck was going on. If the Pepsi belonged to someone who was above playing music on plastic instruments, I would try some small talk and arrange a pickup once they were done. If they were dicks, I would just take the whole thing. Addiction makes you do stuff you’re not proud of.
Inside the building was one thing, but I also noticed that we had giant dumpsters literally everywhere. I’m not above telling you that I would spend lunch breaks dumpster diving and rooting through trashcans. In my contest-addled brain, these indiscretions were far more honorable than paying $2.00 for a song download. From the stealing, looting, and harvesting of waste receptacles, I would often come home with bags of Pepsi caps. I loved this contest because while the prizes were minor (at best), but having instant gratification from the wins made this unbeatable.
With a winning percentage like this, soon the only problem I was having was trying to pick songs from a list that was dwindling quickly. Once I only had to choose between “Footloose” or cover versions of Europe songs, I realized that I had inadvertently bled the well dry. I won almost every song that I could possibly win, and had no desire to add any more Spin Doctors songs to my HDD. The battle was over, and while I never won anything physically tangible from all my efforts, I ended up getting around 200 songs after all was said and done. While some of them were not the greatest, it was cool to have such a diverse library to draw from, especially since not everybody in my band wanted to play Stone Temple Pilot songs over and over again.
But to be honest, it was just really nice to be able to totally butcher a whole new set of songs for a change.
Teh Ben was in a band a long time ago, and could actually play something that wasn’t a plastic instrument! Follow him inside the Hate Machine or YouTube, or just look at his panoramic pictures of turkey butts and Big Mac wrappers.