Zion Williamson is making his first appearance in a Gatorade ad since signing an endorsement deal late last year. But the National Basketball Association rookie is sharing the stage with a dozen other sports stars past and present, including Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Lionel Messi.
The ad, from TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, spotlights Gatorade’s long history of big-name athlete endorsers by showing footage of icons like Jordan and Peyton Manning, while mixing in current stars such as Williamson, Boston Celtic Jayson Tatum, Los Angeles Ram Todd Gurley and the WNBA’s Elena Delle Donne.
The spot opens with a scene featuring Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn, a freshman in high school from Indiana who is considered a top hoops prospect.
The ad’s copy—“the best are fueled by the best. Then. Now. Forever”—seems aimed at asserting Gatorade’s dominance in the increasingly crowded sports drink market. The spot ends with the tagline “nothing beats Gatorade,” which has been in use since 2018.
“It’s truly a show of force that the best in sport always have and always will choose Gatorade,” Jill Abbott, head of consumer and athlete engagement at Gatorade, said in an interview while describing the ad, whose media buy includes NBA programming. The campaign includes the brand’s first paid ad on TikTok. Gatorade representatives declined to share details of the TikTok buy, other than it will debut in late March.
Gatorade has not disclosed the financial terms of Willamson’s endorsement. When the deal was announced in September, Forbes reported that it is worth seven figures annually. The arrangement also covers marketing for PepsiCo-owned Mtn Dew, a Gatorade representative confirmed to Ad Age last year.
Williamson, who starred at Duke, was selected first in the 2019 NBA Draft l by New Orleans Pelicans. He missed the first half of the 2019-2020 season before returning to the court in January after a knee injury. The much-hyped rookie is off to a good start, averaging more than 23 points a game.
As for why Gatorade did not give him a solo role in his first ad, Abbott said that “the intent of this one is to show the breadth of our relationships,” but added that “over the course of the year there will be times when we talk about Zion alone.”
PepsiCo-owned Gatorade commands more than 70 percent market share, but it is fending off spirited competition from startups such as BodyArmor, which has marketed itself as a healthier sports drink option with ads starring pro athletes like soccer star Megan Rapinoe. (Coca-Cola Co. is an investor.)
Gatorade’s strategy to stay on top includes new products such as Gatorade Juiced, a juiced-based sports drink targeting pre-adolescent athletes. In 2018 the brand debuted Gatorade Zero, a sugar-free alternative to regular Gatorade.
Gatorade also continues to leverage its Sports Science Institute, which engages in research and education in hydration and nutrition science, while working with athletes. It operates facilities in the Chicago suburb of Barrington, Illinois, as well as Bradenton, Florida and Frisco, Texas. Abbott said Williamson has taken advantage of the services the institute provides to Gatorade endorsers, such as sweat testing.