What Zika fears? Infectious mosquito star of new Mountain Dew Kickstart ad

Undaunted by mounting Zika virus concerns throughout the Western Hemisphere, a brand has decided to sell itself with a mosquito spreading a substance that dramatically affects everything that comes in contact with it.

You thought Mountain Dew Kickstart's Super Bowl commercial, "Puppymonkeybaby," was hypnotic but disturbing?

Wait till you see "Freak Chain," its latest bid to jolt viewers out of the doldrums, much like the caffeinated beverage itself.

It's not to my taste, but then neither is Mountain Dew Kickstart, a millennial science-fair project in a can.

I mean, I like soft drinks, juice and caffeine. I just don't need all of them at once. So I am probably not the target audience. I'll admit that up front.

The new Kickstart ad got my attention in no small measure because of its chutzpah.

One might have thought an advertiser would run from potential association with the Zika virus this year faster than packets of Ayds Reducing Plan Candy were swept off store shelves in the 1980s.

Like the mosquito it features, the Kickstart commercial is determined to get under your skin and leave you without control of your own actions and perhaps with an itch you can't quite scratch.

It starts with a fat guy who drinks the stuff and can't stop spasming in dance. A mosquito goes for his neck and swells with cartoon-colored drink.

Said mosquito can't stop dancing, gets eaten by frog, which is similarly afflicted with involuntary, unnatural pelvic thrusting until eaten by a fish. Fish goes through familiar movements to the beat until swept up in a fisherman's net. Next a half-eaten fish sits on a plate while a cat twerks away on the kitchen table.

Thirsty yet? Or just horrified?

There's also a reverse version online that starts with the twerking cat, the dancing fish spitting out a dancing frog, which spits out a dancing mosquito, which pumps something into the guy making him dance.

That's even creepier because, without the first to give it context, it's not at all clear what is making everyone lose control of their bodies like that.

The Kickstart ad in some ways is a callback to a classic Tabasco ad from the 1990s that showed a guy in the backwoods draining bottles of the stuff while eating pizza on his porch.

Much to the guy's amusement, a mosquito bit him and took a bit of his blood, then flew off and exploded in a ball of fire.

But that was the 1990s, when a mosquito bite was just a mosquito bite. In 2016, there's growing concern over a fast-spreading mosquito-transmitted virus for which there is neither a vaccine nor specific treatment.

Practically everyone knows an outbreak of Zika in Central and South America has been causing human birth defects, including babies born with unusually small heads, and researchers are studying other potential effects.

Zika concerns are sufficient that there's talk of relocating the Florida Marlins' two-game baseball series with the Pittsburgh Pirates set for the end of the month in Puerto Rico, considered a major front in this nation's battle against the virus.

With weather poised to heat up in the continental United States, there is concern mosquitoes may spread the virus here as they have in Central and South America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said a kind of mosquito that could conceivably transmit the virus, Aedes albopictus, can reach Illinois. But Aedes aegypti, a more likely carrier, typically doesn't make it this far north.

Kickstart hit a nerve at the Super Bowl with its "Puppymonkeybaby." The lab-experiment-gone-awry hybrid chanting "puppy, monkey, baby" while leading a samba line into the night roughly split the audience. Half was engrossed, half grossed out.

Maybe the thinking amid Zika fears is that, just as in the old "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, viewers will do whatever it takes to stay awake to keep "Freak Chain" from haunting their sleep.

Heck, they might even down a can of Kickstart for the 92 milligrams of caffeine.

A brand can dream, can't it?

philrosenthal@tribpub.com

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

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