Gatorade vs Water: The Marketing to Washington Two Step

There was a little-covered story in the Huffington Post a few days ago.

As part of a letter agreement with the New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, Pepsi now has to pay for promoting Gatorade as the enemy of water. How did Pepsi get into this situation? They created a mobile game using Olympic Gold Medal award winner Usain Bolt.

The game, Gatorade Bolt, was the brainchild media agency OMD and has Bolt dodging water droplets as he makes it to a finish line. The objective of the game is to increase speed to that finish line—and the only thing that slows a player down is water. Imagine! Targeted at the 13-24 year old demographic, the message Pepsi is attempting to convey is that drinking Gatorade better supports energy than water. The ad campaign won last year’s Bronze Award from IAB for its creativity. The game had 820 million brand impressions.

But wait a minute. Didn’t Pepsi support The Partnership for a Healthier America’s Drink Up campaign promoting water? Which is it, Drink up (water), or drink up Gatorade? I bet you can guess.

When I worked at the FCC, we used to call that the “Washington Two Step.” Tell policy makers one thing, while telling Wall Street the opposite. This is a version of that, the marketplace two step: supporting the Drink Up campaign as evidence that you are working hard to participate in cleaning up the American diet, while insidiously spending exponentially more amounts of advertising dollars promoting the consumption of salted sugar-water to impressionable teens and young people. And, just as an aside, their advertising medium is almost completely hidden from the parents of the demographically targeted group.

Thankfully, Pepsi pulled the game. It’s no longer available. The case study recounting the agency’s work, also gone from the IAB site. Pepsi was required to give $100,000 dollars to The Partnership for a Healthier America as part of letter agreement with the NY State Attorney Generals office.

So, bravo to Nancy Huehnergarth for writing the original article on this in Civil Eats, and also for the follow-up piece for HuffPo. Bravo to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for taking on Pepsi in an election year. A tentative nod to Pepsi, too, for sending a senior leader to a meeting last week hosted by Luminary Labs where tech, NGOs and entrepreneurs gathered to make suggestions on providing better nutrition to women in the poorest parts of the Bronx. He was the only one there from the “big food” sector. Perhaps Pepsi, under the leadership of Indra Nooyi, is working to bring the culture along… no longer dodging water droplets while doing the two step.

[Image: Droplet experiments by fdecomite]