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Superstar Athletes Recount Their Lowest Defeats For Gatorade’s New Podcast

Peyton and Eli Manning, Serena Williams, J.J. Watt, Karl-Anthony Towns, and more go deep on the challenges that pushed them to become better athletes.

Superstar Athletes Recount Their Lowest Defeats For Gatorade’s New Podcast

As a marketer, Gatorade is no stranger to creating entertaining, compelling ads. Look no further than “Be Like Mike.” Or one of the best Serena Williams ads ever made. Or the Manning brothers pranking college kids. Gatorade is also a pioneer in branded content, with 2009’s “Replay” series that gave small, local sports teams the chance to have a rematch of their biggest games.

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Now Gatorade is once again aiming to push the potential of brand content with a new podcast series, created with Gimlet Creative, that features the superstar likes of Peyton and Eli Manning, Serena Williams, Matt Ryan, J.J. Watt, Karl-Anthony Towns, and more, talking about the lowest points in their careers. The Secret To Victory is a six-episode series that launches this week, and is tied into the brand’s overall campaign of the same name, that launched two weeks ago, and will include ads, the podcast, as well as some content in association with The Player’s Tribune.

The campaign’s anthem ad introduces the theme, but Gatorade’s head of consumer engagement Kenny Mitchell says that by being part of a larger campaign, the focus of the podcast can be on storytelling over selling.

“It’s not just about logos and brand mentions, it’s about telling authentic stories that connect well to what our brand is all about, and we feel this campaign, and this podcast series specifically delivers on that,” says Mitchell.

The first episode features brothers Peyton and Eli Manning talking about the trials and tribulations of their rookie NFL seasons, and how it steeled them to work harder and prepared them for success later on. Hosted by former NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth, the stories are engaging and insightful, in an ESPN-meets-NPR vibe that works well.

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Gimlet Creative creative director Nazanin Rafsanjani says there was never a moment where they had to sell Gatorade or talk about the brand. “They very much bought into the idea that these episodes had to stand on their own and can’t be all about Gatorade,” she says. “For them, it’s a new podcast, and for some of the athletes, it was new to them to be doing something for Gatorade that isn’t promoting the brand explicitly. It’s brought to you by Gatorade, but beyond that, there’s no real brand presence. And no one would listen to it if there was. That’s how we approach all of our brand podcasts–no one will listen to it if it sounds like an ad.”

Gimlet Creative, the branded content division for Gimlet Media, has also made brand podcasts for eBay, Virgin Atlantic, and Tinder. Podcasts have become a new avenue for brands looking to tap into a very passionate audience and a different storytelling medium than what they’ve most likely have been using. More than 57 million Americans tuned into at least one podcast a month last year, up 23% from 2015. And a recent study from NPR found that 75% of listeners took action on a sponsored message.

“The majority of sports stories are told from the perspective of triumph, and we thought it would be powerful, provocative, and motivational to show some of the best athletes in the world have lost and failed, and how they’ve used that experience as motivation to put in the hard work that led to their biggest moments,” says Mitchell. “With a podcast, you can have an in-depth conversation and really bring those stories to life.”

It also brought new logistics around commercial content to life. Mitchell says that the very nature of a podcast taught the brand valuable lessons for a new form of storytelling. When there are so many stakeholders involved–the brand, the agency, the athletes, the teams, the leagues–getting all the approvals and thumbs up you need to green light something gets a tad more complicated going from a 30-second ad to a 30-minute podcast.

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“Just making sure everyone was aligned and feeling good about the content takes a lot longer,” says Mitchell. “If you’re an athlete, you want to listen to it, make sure you’re comfortable with the storyline. If you’re a team mentioned, you want to make sure you’re comfortable with it. So it’s a longer process. We learned a lot, didn’t take any shortcuts, and it certainly flexes a different muscle.”

The Secret To Victory debuts July 19, and can be found everywhere you get your favorite podcasts.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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