In a recent phone interview with a newspaper reporter, I speculated that the makers of Mentos, Perfetti Van Melle, were distancing themselves from the Mentos phenomenon. This was based on our numerous attempts to reach the marketing gurus at Perfetti Van Melle, starting back in January of 2006. Well, based on the article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the folks at Mentos are “tickled pink” by the online buzz.
The popularity of the videos – Mentos says it has found some 800 online – is producing a gusher of free publicity for the candy maker, a unit of Italian confectioner Perfetti Van Melle. “We are tickled pink by it,” says Pete Healy, vice president of marketing for the company’s U.S. division. The company spends less than $20 million on U.S. advertising annually. He estimates the value of online buzz to be “over $10 million.”
Our goal in contacting Healy was to share the “buzz” that started back in 2001 when thousands of teachers started doing the science demo in their classrooms as a way to teach some cool science concepts. Over the past five years we’ve collected hundreds of emails with variations from teachers and students. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to share some of the history of the Mentos phenomenon with the marketing people at Perfetti Van Melle. Here’s the article from the Wall Street Journal…
Diet Coke ‘experiment’ gives Mentos a surge in publicity
Suzanne Vranica and Chad Terhune
Wall Street Journal
Jun. 12, 2006 10:47 AM
Hundreds of amateur videos have flooded the Internet in recent months showing an oddball experiment: people dropping the quarter-size Mentos candies into bottles of Diet Coke. The combination results in a geyser of soda that shoots as high as 20 feet into the air.
“It’s a funny thing to do,” says Sidney Shapiro, a 26-year-old student in Israel, who posted his film on Google Video last month.
The popularity of the videos – Mentos says it has found some 800 online – is producing a gusher of free publicity for the candy maker, a unit of Italian confectioner Perfetti Van Melle. “We are tickled pink by it,” says Pete Healy, vice president of marketing for the company’s U.S. division. The company spends less than $20 million on U.S. advertising annually. He estimates the value of online buzz to be “over $10 million.” The company is considering striking a marketing deal with the two men responsible for one of the more elaborate videos – using 101 two-liter bottles of Diet Coke and 523 Mentos to create a dancing fountain like the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas – posted on EepyBird.com, Mr. Healy says.
Coca-Cola Co. is much more blase. “It’s an entertaining phenomenon,” said Coke spokeswoman Susan McDermott. “We would hope people want to drink (Diet Coke) more than try experiments with it.” Coke could use some extra buzz right now. Sales volume of Diet Coke in the U.S. was essentially flat last year, as consumers switch from diet sodas to bottled water and other noncarbonated drinks. But McDermott says that the “craziness with Mentos … doesn’t fit with the brand personality” of Diet Coke.
Despite Coke’s “Who needs it?” attitude, the phenomenon shows how brands can take on a life of their own, particularly on the Internet. Mentos’ Healy points out that Coke-Mentos experiments have been around for years, but they have been given a new jolt by the newfound fascination among young people to create video content and share it online.
Many companies that have spent years and millions of dollars nurturing a brand aggressively try to retain control of how it is portrayed in public. Last year, FedEx sent a Tempe, Ariz., man a cease-and-desist letter demanding he take down his Web site that showed furniture – such as a desk and chairs – made out of FedEx boxes. “The FedEx brand is one of our most valuable assets,” says Howard Clabo, a FedEx spokesman. “In this particular instance, we simply asked that the violator stop using our brand for their personal benefit.” The site was down for a brief period but reappeared earlier this year.
For Mentos, however, the video buzz offers an opportunity too good to pass up. The candy maker is considering hiring the Eepybird.com duo to do demonstrations of their fountain trick – perhaps even as the opening act for a music-concert tour, says Healy.
The men, Fritz Grobe, a 37-year-old professional juggler, and Stephen Voltz, 48-year-old lawyer, from Buckfield, Me., belong to a local theater company called Oddfellow theater. They got the idea after seeing a less sophisticated version online, and “We wanted to make it bigger and better and turn it into something theatrical,” says Mr. Grobe.
After experimenting with different combinations of sodas and candies – establishing that Mentos and Diet Coke produced the most spectacular effect – they posted their film on EepyBird.com, a site they operate, on June 3. By last Friday, more than 800,000 people had watched the video on Revver.com, a broadband-video site. The pair say they have also had calls from several late-night talk shows, including CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman.”
“It’s all very exciting, it’s been a whirlwind of attention,” says Grobe. “We would be happy to help Mentos,” adds Voltz.
What’s the chemistry behind the geyser? San Diego chemist Neal Langerman suggests the answer lies in the higher level of carbon dioxide in diet sodas than other sodas and the porous surface area of a Mentos. Langerman, the past chairman of the division of chemical health and safety at the American Chemical Society, said similar results wouldn’t be achieved with an M&M, for instance, “which is really solid.” Diet Coke has more carbon dioxide than Diet Pepsi, he says. Coke wouldn’t comment on the comparison.