Gatorade brings cooler off bench to fortify lead

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For the first time in its history, Gatorade is taking its emblematic beverage cooler off the sidelines, putting it front and center of a drive for consumer preference at retail, where rival Powerade is stealing its share in the $5 billion sports-drink category.

Although the PepsiCo-owned brand still controls more than 80% of the market, Powerade marketer Coca-Cola has been hammering away with more spending and a strategy to ally with the iPod generation through a combination of sports, entertainment and technology. In the last three years, Gatorade's share has fallen from 86% to 82.5%, while Powerade's share has grown from 12.2% to 13.5%, according to Information Resources Inc., excluding Wal-Mart.

So Gatorade is bringing its game to retailers to reinforce its dominance as the thirst quencher for athletes. "The cooler is the icon of our sidelines, but to us, it's not signage, it really represents what the pros are using and drinking," said Dustin Cohn, director-Gatorade equity communications. "We're an essential piece of equipment and the cooler is the vessel that holds the product."

The isotonic brand does indeed seem to be everywhere. Gatorade is the exclusive sponsor of the National Football League, the official sports drink of the National Basketball Association, WNBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and a host of others around the world. In all, Gatorade has struck roughly 900 sponsorship deals with sports events over time, according to tracking by the IEG Sponsorship Report.

Gatorade built the multi-tiered, customizable promotional program for retail customers around 1.5 billion bottles with a new photo mosaic label depicting the sports drink's presence on sidelines. It's also launching a summer flavor called Cooler Orange in bottles with labels that look like the cooler.

The goal is "to bring our retailers innovative programming, with higher quality displays, interesting consumer promotional overlays, new packaging ideas, and as a secondary goal we hope to get some consumer pull," said Mr. Cohn. In addition, some retailers will give away branded sideline necessities: coolers, cups, squeeze bottles and towels, while other retailers will offer chances to win Gatorade coolers actually used in games and signed by pro athletes competing in those games.

To help drive customers to grocery, mass and convenience retailers, Gatorade is backing the effort with a TV spot via Omnicom Group's Element 79, Chicago, to air in cinemas over the summer and on Channel One in heavy rotation during the remainder of the school year. Starring a cadre of Gatorade pro and amateur athletes in action, the spot's concept is that while fields may change, one thing remains the same: Gatorade as brought to life by the cooler.

Gatorade also will sponsor branded content during the National Basketball Association's playoffs on ESPN, TNT and FSN networks. On TNT, broadcast personalities will air live sideline segments dubbed "Heard Around the Cooler" about game strategy, injuries, statistics and other insights, while ESPN will air branded "Cooler Talk" segments on its "Sports Center."

THE DANGER

Omnicom's OMD, Chicago, handled media planning. Other elements via Chicago-based Omnicom shops include public relations around the birth of the cooler via Fleishman-Hillard; interactive promotions on ESPN.com and Gatorade.com via Tribal DDB; and its first instant win game since 1999. Each game piece is a Gatorade cup consumers will hold up to a computer screen to look for an image of the cooler.

Ken Shropshire, professor of sports marketing at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, calls the Gatorade play a "long overdue" extension of the post-game Gatorade dunk. "It has become iconic in that it is the last thing everyone is looking for at the end of big games and that has not been captured in marketing in a broad way."

Yet he cautions, that "the problem is if the spin becomes outdated or old-fashioned or out of touch. That's the danger." He added, "That's not what Powerade has done. Their presence is more in a cutting edge, sharper MTV- like representation of `buy our product."'

Powerade last month launched an online version of its LeBron James comic in its quest to position the brand as the sports drink for the next generation. A first for Coke and its partner DC Comics, the interactive site included flash technology and voice-overs by Mr. James across 12 Webisodes, as well as an instant win component and video games.

Mary Herrera, Coca-Cola's director of marketing for sports and energy drinks in North America, said the LeBron James alliance will "help bring new consumers into our category," adding that people increasingly are looking at sports drinks more generally as part of "a broader, active lifestyle."

It's also said to be prepping a May launch of a hybrid isotonic/energy drink called Advance by Powerade, according to industry executives, but a spokesman wouldn't confirm or deny plans for the product.

contributing: rich thomaselli

Orange-tub trivia

* Harry Carson and Jim Burt upended the Gatorade Cooler onto the head of Bill Parcells after the Giants’ 39-20 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI. The superstitious coach insisted his linemen continue the dunking the next season, beginning the "Gatorade dunk."

* Since 1998 the New York Jets have used only Gatorade Riptide Rush on their sidelines on game day; this superstition has roots in the season’s 12-4 record and trip to the AFC Championship Game.

* The Miami Dolphins consumed more than 6,000 gallons of Gatorade last season.The team’s favorite flavor is Orange.

Source: Gatorade

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