Ad Report Card: Sermon on the Mountain Dew

The other day, reader Meryl Yourish sent me a note about a new Mountain Dew ad featuring Davey and Goliath, the claymation boy (Davey) and his dog (Goliath). “I just about broke a rib laughing. … Boomers will send you many letters on this one, I think.” My own knowledge of the series is hazy, based on having encountered maybe a handful of reruns over the years, but of course even a snippet is instantly recognizable. You can see the ad either on Mountain Dew’s site (click on “New TV Ads,” then select “Davey” and either the Windows Media Player or Realplayer) or here, using Quicktime, through the site of an ad-production magazine called ’boards.

Ad still

The Ad: Davey and pal Tommy are rolling around fighting when they bump into Davey’s dad, who asks, “Is there a problem, Davey?” The boy explains: “Well, Dad, there was only one Mountain Dew left, Tommy said it was his, and I said it was mine. We began to fight.” He looks downcast. “It was wrong. We’re sorry.” Dad replies, “Boys, why don’t you give me the Mountain Dew.” He takes the can and drinks the whole thing as the boys look on, astonished. “Now let that be a lesson to you,” says Dad, tossing them the spent can. “What just happened here?” Tommy asks. “We got hosed, Tommy. We got hosed.” Goliath, the talking dog, offers his signature comment: “Oh, Davey.”

Some background: According to the  Unofficial Davey and Goliath Home Page, which seems pretty comprehensive, episodes of the series were produced through the 1960s and into the 1970s. It was created by Art Clokey (also the father of Gumby) for the Lutheran Church. The church bankrolled the enterprise, and all Davey and Goliath episodes have an obvious moral. (The same site notes that the Flanders family on The Simpsons seems to be dedicated fans of the series.) More recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has announced its intention to bring the series back, and it plans to fund this effort by way of a licensing arrangement. The Mountain Dew deal is part of that effort.

Mountain Dew’s pitch: Obviously, the Mountain Dew strategy is to take a cultural icon and play it for kitsch value. Those familiar with Davey are drawn in by his nostalgia-inspiring presence, and those who know the formula of the old show are amused to see the “lesson” undergo a mild subversion treatment: The idea is that Mountain Dew is so good it trumps standard moral behavior. In a humorous way, of course.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s pitch: Maybe it seems self-defeating, and even crass, for the ELCA to raise cash by giving a soft-drink maker the go-ahead to undercut the series’ earnest theme for a cheap gag. But it seems the church is playing a deeper game. “This is exactly the kind of thing we wanted in order to get the image of Davey and Goliath back into popular culture,” the ELCA’s director of communications has explained. “We want to bring the positive moral images that Davey provides to a new generation. But the only way to do that is through merchandising and commercial endorsements, because that’s how you raise the funds.” In other words, the church is pursuing the same target demo as Mountain Dew, and ultimately it has a much tougher sell (God and morality, as opposed to a high-caffeine soda). So, perhaps the Mountain Dew ad will not only help bankroll a revival of the series but will help create a new audience for it as well.

What’s the moral of the story? You’re asking the wrong guy. But maybe something like: Marketing works in mysterious ways.