There’s Zion Williamson rehabbing his knee. Serena Williams working on some fashion designs. Karl-Anthony Towns at the barber shop.
Star athletes all, and all far from their primary workplace on the court.
This is not your typical highlight reel-drenched Gatorade ad.
That’s because it’s Gatorade, but not really. It’s the first major ad campaign for Gatorade’s offshoot brand Bolt 24, a drink with no artificial sweeteners or flavors, designed for “around the clock hydration.”
Gatorade’s senior vice-president and general manager Brett O’Brien says Bolt 24 is a response to athletes asking the brand to create hydration options for beyond the sidelines, and the advertising had to reflect that. “You see familiar athletes in this campaign, but in very unfamiliar circumstances for us,” says O’Brien. “They’re so focused on just getting ready and getting back into the game. For us, it’s about what role Bolt plays in that, and that’s where we felt this has to look, feel, [and] act different than anything you see from Gatorade.”
With all-caps hyping its electrolytes from WATERMELON & SEA SALT, and NO ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS OR FLAVORS, it also sounds like a pointed shot at newer competition like Body Armor.
That brand, which counts NBA stars James Harden and Kristaps Porzingis, star QB Baker Mayfield, MLB all-star Mike Trout, and WNBA star Skylar Diggins-Smith as investors, and boasted the late Kobe Bryant as its creative director, has never been shy taking shots at the bigger brand. As Body Armor CEO Mike Repole told me back in 2018, “No one’s using using wood rackets in tennis anymore, or wearing leather helmets to play football. But the same drink they were drinking while smoking on the sidelines is the same one that’s on the sidelines today.”
O’Brien recognizes that Gatorade’s competition has increased in recent years, but sees his company’s longevity as an undisputed strength, not a weakness. “We’ve established ourselves firmly as the science-based trusted solution for athletes,” says O’Brien. “For years we’ve seen a lot of folks enter into the space, because it’s been a growing category. For us, it’s about the athlete first and foremost. If Body Armor or others come in to try to gain some share and establish themselves in the market, we’re here to make athletes better. We’ve been that way from day one, and we’ll continue to be that way as we move forward.”
Bolt 24 is part of a move beyond the basic Gatorade that O’Brien started back in 2014 to build an internal innovation unit, to develop products that has since led to the launch of things like its GX customizable bottles and personalized electrolyte pods, sweat patches, and Prime Energy chews. O’Brien says that the challenge is introducing a new product at a time when athletes are ready for it.
“We launched chews several years ago, and it was a really intriguing innovation, but athletes weren’t ready,” he says. “They didn’t understand how to use it. At that time, it was just the tipping point of understanding protein, but the idea of doing something before you worked out was kind of foreign. So it’s about how we make sure we’re innovating at the right rate, so that we’re hitting that inflection point that when athletes get it, they understand it, embrace it, and incorporate it into their routines.”
The new campaign was set for a big launch during March Madness, but with the NCAA canceling the tournament due to coronavirus precautions, Bolt 24’s pitch for beyond the court is unintentionally relevant. Gatorade is a major global sports sponsor across leagues, teams, and individual players.
“Player safety is first and foremost, and I totally understand,” says O’Brien. “It’s really sad for those athletes at the collegiate level who had a shot to go out and do something as exciting as March Madness. I think about it less about our exposure and more about what we can do to make sure that athletes know we’ve got their back, and we’ll help them in any way we can. How do we make sure our Gatorade is where athletes need it, when they need it? As these leagues have to make some really tough decisions, we totally understand that we’re gonna do what we can to help them.”