Bodyarmor founder on its new Carrie Underwood deal and going after Gatorade
Bodyarmor has a new weapon in its battle with Gatorade: Carrie Underwood. The sports drink, which has been challenging the 55-year-old PepsiCo-owned behemoth since it launched in 2011, pairs the singer with National Basketball Association star James Harden in a new ad that pushes Bodyarmor Lyte, a low-calorie version of the drink that includes coconut water and first hit stores in 2017.
Bodyarmor has a history of putting pro athletes in ads, but this is the first time the brand has reached beyond the sports world. Just like its athlete endorsements, Underwood’s deal comes with an option to get equity in the brand. Bodyarmor Co-founder and Chairman Mike Repole declined to reveal terms of the deal in an interview.
While Underwood is the brand’s first non-sports endorser, the ad does not stray too far from Bodyarmor’s athletic roots. It shows the singer working out alongside Harden, with scenes of her busy life as a mom and pop star weaved in.
The ad comes as Underwood continues to build a secondary career built around fitness, fashion and health. Dick’s Sporting Goods carries her workout apparel brand Calia that is entering its sixth year. Last year, she launched a fitness app called fit52, along with an accompanying book about her philosophy of eating well and staying healthy 52 weeks a year.
“She lives the lifestyle of an athlete and she’s competitive and she is great is what she does,” Repole says. “And [she] always wants to be better, so she fits the brand.”
The ad is devoid of any direct shots at Gatorade. But Bodyarmor, and Repole, over the years have not been shy about calling out larger competitor with marketing that has attempted to portray Gatorade as outdated, while making claims that Bodyarmor is “more natural” than its foe. The two brands have also been engaged in an arms race when it comes to signing top sports endorsers. Bodyarmor’s roster includes Mike Trout, Naomi Osaka, Dustin Johnson, Mookie Betts and Megan Rapinoe. Gatorade, of course, has a long track record of star-led marketing using A-Listers such as Serena Williams and Michael Jordan.
Gatorade still has a sizable lead, with 72% volume share of sports drinks compared with nearly 7% share from Bodyarmor, according to data from Beverage Digest for the first nine months of 2020. Bodyarmor says it had 14.8% share in the 12 weeks ending Dec. 26, citing Nielsen data.
Despite Bodyarmor’s gains, Gatorade had mostly ignored the upstart in its marketing. But that changed in September when the brand launched a retail campaign for its new Bolt24 line extension that called Bolt24 the “super easy choice” while stating that the drink contains 30% less sugar than Bodyarmor. A 16.9-ounce bottle of Bolt24 contains 19 grams of sugar, while a 16-ounce bottle of BodyArmor has 28 grams of sugar. Bodyarmor Lyte has 2 grams of sugar. Gatorade in 2018 debuted Gatorade Zero, which is sugar-free.
Repole has a successful track record as a beverage entrepreneur. He co-founded Vitaminwater in 1998 and sold it to Coca-Cola Co. in 2007 for $4.1 billion. Coca-Cola took a minority share of Bodyarmor in 2018.
Below, more from Repole on the sports drink wars. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Does the signing of Underwood signal that Bodyarmor wants to move more into the lifestyle/entertainment realm? Could we see more of this?
I think the definition of an athlete is changing. Athletes are not just people who play professional sports or play high school sports. There are business athletes and there are moms who are athletes. The fitness world is evolving and, just like Carrie has evolved over the last 10 or 15 years—she’s got her own line and she’s got her own app and she’s written a book—Bodyarmor is evolving in the same way. We are more than a sports drink and we are going to be a hydration option for more than just professional athletes.
Is Underwood doing anything outside of the TV ad?
She is an investor in the brand. It’s not about contractual obligations. It fits her lifestyle, she loves the brand. Before we even signed her, I saw her with a Bodyarmor Lyte at a book signing.
How much has the endorser-as-investor model keyed Bodyarmor’s success?
Many of the athletes, when they start writing checks to us that are bigger than the checks we write to them, then it becomes a real partnership. They really have their own skin in the game. It becomes part of their lifestyle and it becomes part of what they do on and off the court—and, in Carrie’s case, her concerts or her TV shows.
Gatorade is using Bolt24 to target Bodyarmor. Are you still going to call them out in your ads?
I personally want to thank them for using us in their ads. Because we don’t have as much money to spend in marketing as them, so when they talk about us, it actually increases our sales. At the end of the day when they talk about us, it adds awareness.
We don’t really go after them. We tell the facts. This is who we are, this is who they are. This is where we’ve come, this is where they’ve come, you make the choice.
Bodyarmor for years has been the scrappy upstart. But now there are new sports drinks coming after you, like BioSteel. How are you handling this?
I applaud all those companies and I wish them the best. What we did 10 years ago is what they are trying to do now. As we are going after Gatorade, I actually think it’s helpful to us. They are trying to create a better-for-you sports drink. I don’t think they are trying to create a better Bodyarmor. The more people that are telling that story about Gatorade, and artificial flavors and artificial sweeteners and high sodium and neon-colored Red 40 and Yellow 5, I actually think it helps us long term. I actually look at these startup brands as allies. And I think they look at us as an ally.
(Editor’s note: Regular Gatorade includes artificial flavors, and its G2 variety includes sucralose. Bolt24 does not contain artificial sweeteners or colors; both Bolt24 and Bodyarmor Lyte use stevia.)
You have a goal of being the No. 1 sports drink by 2025. Gatorade still has 70% share. Isn’t that impossible?
I think it’s going to be easier to go from a 15 share to a 50 share in the next five years than it was to go from a zero to 15 share in 10 years. We still have no awareness. You can ask 100 people what is Gatorade and 100 people know what it is. You can ask 100 people what is Bodyarmor and maybe five people know what it is. With people like Carrie on the team now, opening up the base of more than an athlete and more than a sports drink, I think that 15 to 50 in the next five years is very possible.
How has the Coca-Cola investment changed things?
It gives us a national reach with better distribution and better availability to more accounts. In 2022-23, we are going to start to look at global; as early as next year, maybe Mexico, maybe Canada, maybe England. By 2030 we’ll be a global brand.