Kids, come gather round for a winding ol’ tale from the olden days. Back in the 1990s, pro athlete commercial commitments began to evolve beyond just holding up a bottle/burger/shampoo/whatever and smiling in uniform. It was a golden age, the dawn of the epic sports ad, ushered in on the back of a soaring Michael Jordan–whether it was “It’s gotta be the shoes!” or “Be Like Mike,” fans’ expectations of their heroes’ commercial viability was permanently altered. Still, no one actually believed Larry Bird and His Airness were chowing down Big Macs courtside.
In its new ad campaign, the upstart sports drink brand BodyArmor mocks what it sees as Gatorade’s lack of innovation over the years. BodyArmor boasts all natural flavors, sweeteners, and no artificial colors, in contrast to Gatorade’s artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavors. And while Gatorade has long used its heritage as a point of pride and athletic bona fides–witness its recent Jordan Brand collaboration–here we see NBA stars James Harden and Kristaps Porzingis, MLB all-star Mike Trout, and WNBA star Skylar Diggins-Smith equate it with an aging star on the way out. The New York Knicks’ Porzingis says he was all in right away. “Kobe called me personally, told me the idea, and I loved it,” says Porzingis.
For BodyArmor CEO Mike Repole, the campaign’s primary aim is to bring attention to the fact that while sports, training, and athletes have changed dramatically over the past few decades, Gatorade’s formula is stuck in the past. “No one’s using using wood rackets in tennis anymore, or wearing leather helmets to play football,” Repole says. “But the same drink they were drinking while smoking on the sidelines is the same one that’s on the sidelines today.”
Kobe Bryant remains the company’s number-three investor and creative director. Last year, Bryant told me that the most important advertising lesson he learned was to understand the truth of what you’re trying to communicate, then speak simply and plainly. The concept of the ads is simple, the message clear: BodyArmor is the future, Gatorade is the past.
However, the campaign that pokes fun at the past is itself a throwback to the cola war-style taste test and direct competitor call-out model perfected during that era . . . and it’ll probably work. The twist is that BodyArmor’s spokesathletes are also stakeholders, a fact both Repole and Porzingis think roots the brand in the kind of authenticity needed in today’s market.
“People sometimes sign deals because they get paid a lot of money, but here, everybody actually loves the brand and product,” says Porzingis.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, people might do an endorsement or a spot just for the money,” Repole says. “Now, athletes are more sophisticated, they’re transparent in social media. If they don’t believe in something, most of them wouldn’t do it.”
It’s not a surprise why BodyArmor is gunning so hard for Gatorade. The Pepsi-owned brand has dominated the sports drink market since it was the only sports drink around. When BodyArmor launched in 2012, Gatorade had about 80% share of the market, while Coke-owned Powerade had the other 20%. Repole says BodyArmor has only had national distribution for two years, but has managed to grow from $10 million in retail sales in 2012 to $400 million by the end of this year. It also just became available at 7-Eleven, Walmart, and Sam’s Club this year. Repole expects to have about 10% market share by next year.
“I think people have been fooled a bit by Gatorade because [the company has] spent so much time and money on marketing the product,” says Repole, who founded Vitaminwater and sold it to Coca-Cola in 2007. “They spend millions of dollars for the sidelines spots in the NFL and NBA, and across major NCAA sidelines. I think consumers today are more sophisticated, educated, and care more about what they’re putting in their bodies.”
UPDATE: When reached for comment, a Gatorade spokesperson simply referenced this pinned tweet.
Studied. Tested. Proven. For the world’s best athletes, nothing beats Gatorade. pic.twitter.com/jyhNE1y7cy
— Gatorade (@Gatorade) April 18, 2018