Brands have increasingly been creating their own consumer-oriented online properties to promote their brands while building a deeper connection with consumers.

From Wal-Mart’s failed social network to Coke’s virtual world, I’ve often wondered if brands haven’t been a little to eager to jump on the hype train before asking themselves: “Where exactly are we going?”

So it was with interest that I read about Mountain Dew’s “Dewmocracy” massively multiplayer online game (MMOG).

Unlike its predecessors, Dewmocracy actually has a purpose - it “supports an ever-expanding plan to let consumers choose the next flavour of Mountain Dew.”

According to Frank Cooper, VP of Market at Pepsi-Cola North America:

“Our feeling was there was a way to bring gaming and Mountain Dew together in a story-based form. Here’s a platform where consumers go through a story, play a game and through the process develop a product.”

So far, Pepsi seems pleasantly surprised with the results - there are over 700,000 unique visitors and 200,000 registered members, who have gone through what Cooper describes as an “elaborate registration process”. Not too shabby.

In my opinion, Dewmocracy seems to be one of the first worthwhile initiatives of its kind.

Whereas Wal-Mart’s social network and Coke’s virtual world provide little tangible value to the consumer, Pepsi’s Dewmocracy is a solid attempt at engaging the consumer in a branded experience while supporting a real objective that invests the consumer in the brand through their participation in product development.

After reading the AdAge article on Dewmocracy, I moved on to another AdAge article: “Don’t Flush Your Ad Down the Super Bowl.”

Interestingly, its advice was relevant to branded online properties. The article points out:

“There’s a difference between a “punch-line” ad and a “piggyback” ad. Using a brand as the punch line to a story or joke is very effective.

“But a piggyback ad is entertaining for only 25 seconds and then has another five-second ad at the end. The hope is that the piggyback ad will enjoy some reflected glory from the ad it clutches on to, but that’s not how the brain works.”

In essence, branded online properties like the ones implemented by Wal-Mart and Coke are the virtual equivalents of a piggyback ad.

The brand is piggybacking on the popularity of certain concepts (social networks, virtual worlds, etc.) in the hope that consumers will connect with the brand through association.

Dewmocracy, on the other hand, is the virtual equivalent of a punch-line ad. Consumers participate because their participation results in an outcome directly tied to the brand (a new Mountain Dew product).

I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out which type of branded online property is going to resonate (and be recalled) most by consumers.

As such, brands looking to implement consumer-oriented online properties should ask: is our property a piggyback or is it a punch-line?

If it’s the former and not the latter, a re-evaluation is in order. Without one, the brand may be jumping on a train to nowhere.