For Heath Doerr it started as a whim. Having seen a lot of discussion of Mentos commercials on the
newsgroup rec.arts.tv, Doerr, at the time a Purdue University senior, decided to summarize each of the
candy's 30-second television ads, those pararables in which "fresh and full of life" youths are faced
with predicaments that can only be solved by downing a minty Mento.He jokingly dubbed the file the
Doerr, who admits to not even being a particularly big fan of the candy, never anticipated the response to the FAQ. After drawing the attention of thousands of readers, not to mention reporters for The New York Times, Newsweek and Wired, it's not unfair to say the Mentos FAQ is easily one of the most recognized humor documents on the bandwidth. Now with FAQ version 5.0 at http://www3.gse.ucla.edu/ ~cjones/mentos-faq.html, it's also one of the the freshest.
When Doerr, 23, graduated last May, it looked like the Mentos FAQ would be abandoned with his temporary exit from cyberspace. Enter a group of zealous Temple University students, known as "The Gathering," who have kept the site from becoming an Annie (an obviously abandoned site). Gathering member Jeff Nucera, a 19- year-old junior from Philadelphia, contacted Doerr last spring with information about a Jap anese Mentos ad that had been shown in one of his classes. "Heath told me he would put it in the next version of the FAQ, which he said would be the last because he was graduating and leaving the 'net,"
Nucera recalls. After sobbing uncontrollably for days, Nucera says he contacted the other members of the Gathering to see what they thought about taking over the FAQ. Figuring it couldn't hurt to ask, "I told Heath we had six incredibly stange and fun people willing to take good care of it and he let us have it," Nucera says. Doerr, who is now pursuing his MBA at Wake Forest, says he made the Gathering promise not to make a profit off the site and to remain true to its original spirit before handing over the reigns to six strangers in another time zone.
The 5.0 version, which debuted in late November, is the second update by the Gathering. The FAQ has grown well beyond the commercial synopsises of Doerr's original work. Though those original, and still amazingly fresh descriptions remain the cornerstone of the FAQ, there's now enough information about the seemingly unremarkable mint and fruit candies to fill a veritable Warren Commission Report. New features include a commercial update, longer sections on different flavors of Mentos available in the United States and abroad and a link to a new site, The Mentos Journal, featuring longer works by Mentos fans. The first journal entry contains a virtual dissertation on commercial #4, "The Car Movers." The author likens the struggle of a working-class woman whose economy car is boxed in by a unthinking and decidedly unfresh yuppie-type in his sports sedan, to the age old struggle of the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. Yet another reason for Mentoholics to rejoice: Nucera says he now hopes to update the FAQ monthly -- five months passed between versions 4.0 and 5.0.
Doerr is quick to credit the legions of Mentos fans across the 'net, for the growth in breadth and scope of the FAQ. His original work was meant to be a parody of FAQs, which at the time seemed to be popping up for every subject no matter how inane. He was sur- prised when people started to take it seriously, e-mailing him enough new Mentos information to warrant fresh versions. "It started out as a joke. I had no intention of making it bonafide. I never did any of the research myself," Doerr says, "It's basically a joke that got out of hand." Though the FAQ had its fans when it was posted to various newsgroups, Doerr says its popularity skyrocketed once it was posted on the Web a month after it was originally conceived.
As for the strange cult appeal of the commercials and their sing-song jingle, Doerr has his thoughts. "My conclusion is that ads most commonly try to portray people you and I would like to be. Like in the Mountain Dew ads with those sky-divers and such. I don't think anybody wants to be like the people in the Mentos commercial. The ads fail to the point that it's intriguing and they become almost cool." Doerr has found that the commercials really strike a chord with anyone who has ever seen them. "In any conversation about commercials, Mentos inevitably come up."
One of the first controversies within the FAQ, was a debate over the commercials' origins. Though they have the unique flavor of Europeans trying (in vain) to portray hip versions of American teens, it turns out the commercials where all conceived by an American; some were even filmed in the United States. As the FAQ grew in popularity, people weighed in with tidbits about people meeting actors from the commercials or recognizing a location in the commercial. "The commercials are full of a lot of unanswered questions" Doerr says, "You watch them just to try and figure them out. Everyone wants some explanation."
Full of profits, too One thing is certain; there's no arguing the commercials' effect on the bottom line at Mentos parent company Van Melle. According to an Advertising Age article quoted in the FAQ, "sales (of Mentos) have increased from $20 million in 1991 to about $40 million today." Doerr, for one, worries that the success of the commercials will be their downfall if they become self-consciously dorky. "The phenomena can only go so far. You just can't manufacture the angst of the first few. But with the money they're making, why should they stop?" Jen Margolis, a marketing brand assistant with Van Melle, is reticent when it comes to the topic of the popularity of the Mentos site. "It's set up by the consumers," she says of the official company reaction to the FAQ, "it's not used at all by us." With companies spending tens of thousands of dollars and tripping over each other to have a unique presence on the Web, it's a little surprising that Van Melle would be so reluctant to bask in the free publicity the site has garnered.
Doerr is quick to praise the job the Gathering has done maintaining the FAQ. Where Doerr says he really never eats Mentos, Nucera says he and his friends truly love the candy. Nucera, who always carries a pack no matter where he goes, says that people around campus and in his classes know him as the "Mentos guy" which often results in people perpetually mooching Mentos from him. It's exactly that kind of notoriety that Doerr never sought. In fact, when asked to send a photo to run with this article he declined, saying "high school yearbook photos are definitely out, so I guess I'll just have to fade away into anonymity. Which in some sense is all the better." Nucera says that all six members of the Gathering help maintain the FAQ, though he tends to do most of the work, mostly just typing in all the stuff. Nucera, who lives at home, does most of the task from the back of the school's computer lab where the Gathering meet rather than on his home computer, an old Commodore 64.
Fiction filled with freshness Brian MacKenzie, another member of the Gathering, has been concentrating his efforts for the FAQ on several adapted works of Mentos fiction. On the drawing board:
Nucera says if he had to pick a favorite Mentos commercial it would be pretty difficult, but he would probably lean toward the "The Three-Second Car Jacking" in which a Nordic-looking teen has no tolerance for an absent-minded motorist who has stopped on the crosswalk just as he is making his way across the street.
Not surprisingly, Nucera says he doesn't have a least favorite ad. "They're all so good," he adds freshly, and oh yes, full of life.