Gatorade's Mysterious G Spots a Risky Strategy

Ads Have Sparked Conversation, But Also Confusion

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NEW YORK ( -- What's G?

That's what consumers have been asking ever since Gatorade began running its ambiguous black-and-white spots featuring only the stark letter G in the closing shot. Unfortunately, relatively few of them immediately found the answer. While that was exactly the campaign's strategy -- to create conversation -- some experts think it's a risky one that could result in a missed opportunity for Gatorade.

Gatorade's ambiguous black-and-white spots have confused some consumers.
Gatorade's ambiguous black-and-white spots have confused some consumers.
On Jan. 1, the day the commercial broke during the Rose Bowl, searches for "G commercial" surged, according to Google Trends. The search term took the No. 6 slot for the day, giving it a "Hotness" rating of "Volcanic." When searching for that term, along with a number of other terms, including "What's G" or "G," the only clue came in a sponsored link for a YouTube channel. The channel, cryptically named "whatsg1965" (Gatorade was founded that year), is also unbranded.

Five days after the launch, despite plenty of online inquiries, the commercial had garnered barely 70,000 views on the channel. A second version of the spot, featuring a new cast of athletes and posted on Jan. 4, had less than 900 views after two days. Several other videos posted Dec. 23 grabbed between 1,700 and 4,500 views in two weeks. Those videos are titled "No Excuses," "Shine On," "Bring It" and "Be Tough," the new names of the Gatorade sub-brands, replacing Rain, A.M., Fierce and X-Factor, respectively.

The meaning of G
But even after finding the YouTube channel some consumers remained confused. Commenters at the site posited that the commercial could be for Guess, the clothing brand, or a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Elsewhere in cyberspace, consumers wondered whether the commercial was meant to promote Nike, God, a new African-American television channel, Georgetown University or G-Unit, the hip-hop group and clothing brand.

"I like the concept, a 'G' means many things to many different people, but when you're using celebrities, why not make the brand connection more obvious? Celebrities can compete with your brand, if the message is too subtle," said Josh Warner, president of Feed Co., a video-seeding firm. "Gatorade missed an opportunity to spur more conversation around the campaign by putting all the videos up at once on YouTube over the holidays when web usage trends are down. ... Without a doubt, the marketing, how they rolled out these videos, could have been improved upon."

But while the campaign has yet to catch fire online, Matt Cutler, VP-marketing and analytics at Visible Measures, cautions that it's still early. There are some indications of viral pass-along, and a handful of sites have loaded the spot onto their pages. Mr. Cutler said if the videos don't take off within four weeks of being posted, they likely never will.

Room for conversation
"It is very lightly branded, arguably not branded at all. And there seems to be some indication that the more you leave things open to conversation, the more conversation will occur," he said. "In this creative, they chose to leave lots of room for conversation, but the risk is people seeing this and not knowing it's associated with the Gatorade brand."

For their part, the brand is remaining mum on future plans or even specifics on the current campaign, which is the first work from TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles. Last spring, Gatorade ended its six-year relationship with Element 79, Chicago. Gatorade declined to make executives available for comment.

"Ultimately, we want consumers to make the connection to us ... so we aren't discussing it more broadly right now," said Jill Kinney, a spokeswoman for the brand. "Our strategy is to create consumer intrigue and insure everyone stays tuned for more in our quest for G."

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