Consumer Insight & Marketing: Mormons, TikTok & Pepsi.

A classic art imitates life moment in branding.

But before we get into how popular culture is driving marketing planning, a question: if you are in marketing or advertising, when was the last time you spent seven minutes swiping-up on TikTok?

Whether you say ‘never’ or ‘yesterday’, chances are you may have not caught this video from @erinqueen2 on TikTok. So, check this out.


The choke hold this now has on me & i dont even like soda?!?$?! #dirtysoda #swig #utahsoda #isitpoporsoda #drpepper

♬ original sound – Erin Queen
Dirty Soda / TikTok- @erinqueen2

Dirty Soda is a TikTok viral phenomenon today but it did not start out on social media. What began as a creative twist to soda-pop in a remote corner, more than a decade back, is being turned into a rave of sorts by the TikTok generation.

To really understand the trend and the resulting sensation, let’s #rewind a bit.

Utah, the land of the Mormons is where Dirty Soda was born. Nicole Tanner, the owner of a drive-by franchise called Swig, in 2010, launched mocktailesque combos of soda pop and coconut creamer or vanilla cream, labeled it Dirty Soda and car-loads lined up for their fix of ‘dirty’. But how come Utah and why ‘dirty’?

Swig- Home of the Original Dirty Soda / TikTok

Over 60% of Utah’s population is Mormon and their faith oriented lifestyle recommends abstinence from all addictive substances- alcohol, cigarettes, even coffee and tea, till recently. So, enter sugar-and- flavor-spiked ‘dirty’ sodas, as the new addiction. The Mormon corridor of the mountain states is now home to close to a hundred drive-by dirty-soda outlets of Swig, Sodalicious, Fiiz and more.

But that’s still a drop in the ocean called the US Beverages Market, which accounted for close to 36 billion gallons of beverage sales in 2021 [Source: Beverage Marketing Corporation]. Incidentally carbonated soft drinks [CSDs] accounted for a third of that- 12 billion gallons. 2019 numbers from Statista peg the annual average per capita consumption of soft drinks in the US to be approx. 146.2 liters, compared to 96 liters in the EU. So, with a ballpark hundred outlets, dirty soda has a long way to go, to be seen as a trend to reckon with, in marketing terms.

Until TikTok went viral with it. Now that you have viewed the TikTok video, welcome to @erinqueen2’s legion of 4.5 million viewers who have seen her dirtysoda video. And if you are curious, the hashtag count on #dirtysoda on TikTok, along with its other dirty cousins like #dirtysodatrend and #dirtysodahack currently runs to about 142M views. Now, if you are that sharp marketer who is on the hunt for that nugget of a consumer insight into the lives of the youth of today, you’d be getting pretty interested with that trend, won’t you?

Which brings us to Pepsi’s recent foray into this dirtysoda phenom. No, they haven’t launched a new dirtysoda, they are just playing a little dirty, nay naughty, with Pepsi, this festive season. Enter Pilk- Pepsi’s concoction with milk, as a possible new alternative for Santa this Christmas.

In PepsiCo’s words: “This holiday season, Pepsi is giving milk and cookies – a favorite tradition to leave out for Santa – a surprising and naughty new twist with the introduction of Pilk and Cookies. For those new to Pilk, it is the delicious and must-have drink that combines the crispness of Pepsi with the subtly sweet and creamy taste of milk, traditionally topped with creamer, and it pairs perfectly with cookies. Known in pop culture as a “dirty soda,” this trending combination has grown over several decades and has recently gained viral fame on TikTok.”

Pepsi is coaxing consumers to get onto to Insta, Twitter and TikTok to join their ode to dirtysoda and post videos of their own #PilkAndCookies to win some 25 cash prizes for their holiday gifts!

Check this- Pepsi’s paid partnership with Lindsay Lohan, launching this dirtysoda promo on Lindsay’s TikTok and Insta.

Pepsi- Pilk & Cookies /TikTok -@lindsaylohan

In a world where traditional mainstream TV options are becoming “my parent’s watchlist” and being replaced by user-generated content [UGC] on YouTube and TikTok, brands have a challenging task of staying relevant to the young and the young-at-heart consumer.

Also, in an attention-starved, craving-for-the-new, mobile-screen bound world of today’s youth, the idea of $300K+ big budget productions as TV commercials, backed by millions of dollars for airtime & frequency targets is begging a rethink.

Linked with this is the question whether brand content should sell or entertain or stay relevant, as we step into marketing in the digital world of tomorrow?

But I digress. Getting back to Pepsi and dirtysoda, as a student of marketing, I find a couple of decisions perplexing: Despite her recent Netflix release “Falling for Christmas”, was Lindsay Lohan the best choice to partner for the TikTok generation? I may not be the best person to weigh in on that but a quick look at her TikTok follower list shows 1.1M- small change, in the social media world. Though Lindsay does have 11.8M followers on IG. However, the hashtag count for #dirtysoda on IG is a paltry 1000+ posts. So, is Pepsi trying to get the #dirtysoda #tiktok trend to get more mainstream with this Lindsay promo?

The other perplexing thought- why the half-hearted “25 lucky winners will win cash for their holiday gifts”! If you do want the Utah spark to spread like the California wildfires and get Pepsi more screen-time, this seems an apologetic effort at a promotion. 

That aside, I believe that it takes a good strategist to pick up on that consumer insight of the TikTok dirty soda craze and plan a critical seasonal promotion, based on the insight. And an adventurous marketing team to run with that strategic thought.

I admire the creative irreverence to toy around with an icon like Pepsi on the one hand and with a tradition like Milk and Cookies for Santa, on the other. I love the fact that Pepsi continues to be that brand that has its thumb on the pulse of the youth of today and dares to be creative in new ways.

I can’t but wonder whether a version of Pilk is in testing, as we speak? Or maybe #dwilk is the new Mountain Dew flavor-in-the-works. Any takers? 

Would love to have your views on this. What are your thoughts on other brands that have it right on consumer insights and trends in today’s context? What should we unlearn and learn, to be thought leaders in marketing in the hashtag era? Join the conversation.

Published by Alex Alagappan

Brand Builder. Ally. Strategist. Ideas Champ. Founder Partner. Chief Big Rain.

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