Gatorade Should Stick With Athlete-Focused Playbook

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Gatorade, we're afraid, is at risk of hyper-extending its brand.

News that the venerable brand is readying a low-calorie electrolyte beverage for athletes when they're not exercising has us scratching our heads.

This is a brand long admired for sticking to sweat. Those familiar with the Gatorade mythology (or even its advertising) know that it was created to rehydrate University of Florida football players suffering in the heat and humidity of the "Swamp." All of the company's marketing messaging has featured serious athletes in the midst of seriously athletic workouts. The only times those athletes weren't shown on the field was when they were being subjected to grueling athletic experiments in the lab.

Of course, nonathletes drank it to quench a nonserious thirst. Sure, college kids used it as a hangover remedy. And yes, three-times-a-week walkers turned to it when water would suffice. Yet most of them probably did so precisely because the brand stayed on message and never showed some poor schlub swilling Gatorade on the couch. And because it stuck to that one simple message -- serious stuff for serious athletes -- Gatorade was seen as an aspirational brand.

But apparently, PepsiCo expects more. There's probably also something to say about this incessant need for public companies to produce unrealistic growth figures, even in a mature category. Steady profits and an 80% market share just isn't good enough these days. But that's an argument for another time.

Yet we'll hold out hope that Gatorade isn't completely jumping the shark and that company won't see a repeat of 1990, when it launched Gatorade Light. That was dubbed by Darren Rovell, author of "First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon" as one of Gatorade's biggest mistakes. But who knows? In a carb-obsessed world, perhaps there is a market for a low-in-sugar-but-high-in-electrolytes Gatorade. After all, we've heard personal trainers preach the joys of lower-in-sugar Pedialyte as a replacement for Gatorade. And there's the chance that the marketer will do what it did with Propel -- namely, take the Gatorade name out of the equation.

But on this we're certain: It would be folly to market the new product as something to boost electrolytes while vigorously exercising the remote control. To stay in the game, Gatorade must keep it on the field.
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