What the F is G? The commercial that's been running for the past two weeks doesn't explicitly say. All it does is pan across black-and-white images of familiar and perhaps not so familiar (mainly) black and white athletes, while rapper Lil Wayne waxes poetic about everything the mysterious G putatively embodies:
"It's the emblem of a warrior. It's the swagger of an athlete, a champion and dynasty. It's gifted, golden, genuine and glorious. It is a lowercase god. It's the GOAT, the greatest of all time. It's the heart, hustle and soul of the game."
The greatest, naturally, is Muhammad Ali; the god, Bill Russell; the warriors, sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who scandalized the Mexico City games with fisted black-power salutes. JabbaWockeeZ, the masked, hip-hop dance crew is in there too, and why the hell not? Here at AdReview, a wedding-floor Electric Slide is a grueling test of endurance.
Anyway, as anyone with a fluid ounce of sense should have realized, G is Gatorade, as envisioned by its new agency, TBWA, Los Angeles. Apparently, though, plenty of viewers were stymied. On the YouTube comment board, poohbearg35 wrote, "yo this came on during the trojans n penn state game ... what are they actually tying to advertise." And diamonddevils10 said "so what is g?" And ptouhey deduced it was an ad -- for Nike.
Many other matters were discussed, including plenty of nakedly racist debate about the video's black-centricity, but more on that presently. The point is, it worked. People are talking about G. This is what a teaser campaign is meant to do. Therefore, for TBWA, so far, so good.
Likewise (if we can ourselves deduce based on limited data) the strategy -- which would seem to solidify what Gatorade began with its "Is it in you?" campaign but did not quite finish: to be sport in a bottle, the Nike of beverages. That's right, ptouhey wasn't far off.
"Is it in you?" was a reasonable facsimile of "Just do it." It was question as admonition, asking in particular whether you were serious enough as an athlete to do what is necessary for peak performance -- such as not cramping up when you are sweating your body salts away at maximum exertion.
We loved that campaign (from Element 79, Chicago), at least when the ads managed not to exaggerate this genuine, but modest, brand benefit. Here and there the brand overreached, implying that some electrolytes in your DayGlo-colored sugared swill offer a competitive edge -- like human growth hormone, in a variety of tangy flavors.
In any event, it would appear that the new agency is reaching still farther, not to "Be like Mike" but to be like Nike, associating G with all the emotion and beauty and glory of sport. There are worse things for a sport drink to be than synonymous with athleticism.
There are, of course, also many ways for this to go wrong. One, again, is to oversell the product efficacy. But here there's also a glimmer of something potentially more sinister: embracing "G" to mirror urban street parlance for substances far less benign than Gatorade. In a world where X stands for Ecstasy and H stands for heroin, you'd better take care how you sling around your Gs. This is no place for slumming or radical chic.
The racial skew of the opening ad makes the subject even more sensitive. The preponderance of African-American icons, and the reminder of 1968 black militancy, seemed to unsettle many of the YouTube audience. If PepsiCo hopes to speak to black America -- as opposed to exploiting it or pandering to it -- it had better know what the F it is doing.