How Taco Bell’s Baja Blast soda went from curiosity to rallying cry

During Sunday’s Super Bowl, a commercial for Baja Blast, the mystery-citrus-flavored, turquoise-hued Mountain Dew variety, featured one of the evening’s better examples of celebrity casting.

It starred actress Aubrey Plaza, known for a kind of deadpan delivery and unexcitable stoicism that captures her millennial generation’s favored pose of existential dread. (I mean, they can’t afford to buy homes and the world is basically on fire all around them, so you can’t expect them to get all excited about a fizzy drink, okay?) And the twist was that Plaza was hawking a drink whose name suggests having the best time ever, which obviously is something she and her cohort are loath to do unironically.

The commercial featured Plaza in a series of scenarios that ranged from prosaic (a poolside party populated by unruly children) to fantastic (she’s being abducted by aliens), each time professing to be “having a blast” in a flat monotone that belied her black core of discontent. It concluded with a “Game of Thrones”-esque sequence in which she appeared astride a flying dragon alongside her former “Parks and Recreation” co-star Nick Offerman, and finished with an absolutely unhinged peal of laughter from Plaza.

2024 Super Bowl commercials: The good, the bad, the unsettling

Was she actually having fun? Was this some kind of “Parks and Rec” fanfic in which the equally misanthropic boss-and-intern duo had finally conquered the world? It was unclear.

Such ambiguity seems fitting for Baja Blast, the strange and improbable elixir that raises more questions than it can answer.

Aubrey Plaza and former ”Parks and Rec” co-star Nick Offerman can have fun just about anywhere in this 2024 Super Bowl ad for Mountain Dew. (Video: MTN DEW)

As the Super Bowl spot drew eyeballs, meanwhile, the soda had been getting more under-the-radar hype from Taco Bell, the fast-food chain with which it is synonymous. Instead of airing its own Super Bowl commercial as it has in previous years, Taco Bell opted to host a trade-show-like gathering in Las Vegas the Friday before the Sin City-held game that was likened to tech and gaming conferences where the newest devices and products are previewed for their rabid fans.

At the “Live Más Live” event, there were trippy big-screen graphics, cameos by athletes and rappers, as well as remarks by Taco Bell CEO Sean Tresvant (who brought big dad energy when he shouted out DJ “LP Giobbi on the ones and twos”). But instead of futuristic headsets or microchips, the spectacle included previews of soon-to-come menu items — with a few Baja Blast-flavored offerings among those making the most waves.

The lineup consisted of a gelato that tastes like the soda, as well as a topping for its standard cinnamon twists that looked like tiny blue flecks. And most unsettlingly, the Taco Bell wizards also served up a pie bearing its recognizable color, a confection that looks custard-based and was described by those who tasted it as resembling key lime pie.

Taco Bell has been testing the gelato in a limited market, indicating that it would likely be the soonest of the upcoming blue sweets out of the gate, but no dates were given for when the pie and cinnamon twists might be available for sale.

Social media lit up with the lime-flavored news out of Las Vegas, with reactions ranging from horrified to delighted — with a large portion of the Baja-curious populous appearing to be merely intrigued. “THERE’S A BAJA BLAST PIE WHAT,” was a sample response on X. “This sounds ridiculous,” one user posted on the Reddit board dedicated to all things Taco Bell. “I want to try this.”

After all, the drink has long had its cult following. Fans have created songs and videos devoted to Baja Blast, while some stans sport themed merch, including a lip balm and colorful socks.

While Baja Blast might seem novel compared to more traditional soda brands, the azure drink actually marks its 20th anniversary this year. In its two decades, it has morphed from the kind of one-off product that Taco Bell is known for (RIP Tripleupa?) that quickly end up in the hinged-doored trash can of history into a bona fide phenomenon.

With a 2004 debut, Baja Blast is just a year younger than Starbucks’s pumpkin spice latte, another beverage that has evolved from breakout star to cultural signifier and has now graduated into ubiquity. Baja Blast might be a little more niche, but there’s reason to think it might not be far behind the PSL juggernaut.

When Taco Bell first began pouring it from soda dispensers, the soda was an early example of brand synergy. Taco Bell was looking to up its drink sales, and the taco chain and Mountain Dew determined that there was a big overlap in their customers, according to a 2004 article in the trade publication QSR. “Over the years, Taco Bell has helped grow the Mountain Dew brand to the point where Taco Bell customers and Mountain Dew drinkers have become kindred spirits,” Dave Burwick, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Pepsi-Cola North America was quoted as saying. “They are active, energetic, and constantly looking for something they can call their own.”

How to explain its enduring popularity? It is visually distinct, with a color that is said to mimic the waters of Mexico’s Baja coast. Some call the shade teal and others have described it as neon green. One probably apocryphal story claims that Taco Bell execs dreamed up the idea for the drink while partying on a corporate retreat in the region, although the company has indicated that its origins might have been elsewhere, with rejected names including “Lime Zone,” “Cliff Dive,” and “Shock-apulco.”

And then there’s that flavor. The QSR story describes it as having “a Mexican-inspired tropical lime flavor,” and Taco Bell likens it to drinking “an intense tropical storm.” Even ardent fans find it difficult to pinpoint what the “tropical” element is; some people say they detect notes of non-citrus fruit, citing blue raspberry (which does not actually exist in nature) or a generic fruit punch (again, not something you could pick off a tree). Many have suggested recipes for making the stuff at home that typically involve classic Mountain Dew, a splash of blue Gatorade or Powerade, and sometimes Sprite.

Taco Bell and Mountain Dew have stoked demand by controlling the supply — a key page in the taco chain’s marketing playbook. Initially available only at Taco Bell locations, the soda was eventually released to retailers for limited offerings. This year, in honor of its 20th anniversary, Mountain Dew has said it will be available at retail stores all year long. And the brand has expanded: In 2013, Taco Bell introduced a frozen version, with a boozy take available at the chain’s Cantina locations.

It’s also been the main character in some viral moments. In 2008, a gamer plotted a heist described as “Operation Soda Steal” in which he would use a specially designed contraption that would allow him to surreptitiously siphon gallons of Baja Blast from the fountain and into a concealed tank, eventually making off with some partially flattened soda. And in 2018, a local news report in Alabama delighted the nation when a group of people planned to hold a vigil for the local Taco Bell that had been destroyed by a fire. Put together as sort of an over-the-top joke, complete with candles and (possibly faux) tears, the ceremony attracted fans, including one now known as “Baja Blast lady,” who performed an enthusiastic musical ode to the drink. “Baja Blaaaaaaast,” the woman boomed, before upping her voice to a register worthy of an operatic area. “Baja Blaaaaaast!”

Source link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2024/02/13/baja-blast-taco-bell-commercial-desserts-mountain-dew/

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