Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gatorade Commercials: What's G?

And no, the "G" doesn't stand for ghoulish ...

A pulsating, two note piano riff laced atop two minor chords fades in, creating dramatic tension across a black backdrop. Slowly, black and white faces are paced across the screen one at a time, moving at a moderate speed from right to left, all at once revealing them in stark contrast of the black background, though, not all of the faces are instantly recognizable. An older black gentleman, with a dazzling smile, salt and pepper hair, natty jacket, open collar shirt. Two young, stern, attractive Caucasian women follow, their shoulders and overall build revealing their athleticism, though, not the exact nature of it. A middle-aged man, whom even the most casual sports fan identifies as Muhammad Ali, comes next, his hands set to jab at the screen. Next follows a youthful, possibly pre-pubescent Hispanic youth, hat cocked to the side, smile beaming as if he is thrilled to be next to Ali, and who can blame him? The whole time, the voice over is provided by a young Black man, with an accent that is as definitively urban New Orleanian as any you will hear, and he narrates the segment, alternately offering encomia and intermittent African-American vernacular slang between each passing participant. The closing shot is preceded by men dressed in all black save for their white masks, dancing like mechanized ghouls emerging from a Tim Burton film.

The commercial ends. A white “G” emerges on the screen. Fin.

The refrain in the commercial? “What’s G?”

A bit of backstory is appropriate. In late 2008, Gatorade fired its Director of Marketing and Sales, largely because the brand found itself losing precious market share in the energy drink segment. A decade ago, Gatorade was virtually without competitor, garnering contract after contract from professional and collegiate teams and paying gigantic sums of money to its pitchpersons (which have included Jordan, McGwire, and Manning among many, many others). Now, the energy drink umbrella is much more vast, and products such as Red Bull, Vault, Monster, SoBe, and Vitamin Water have carved considerable niches for themselves. Increasingly, Gatorade became the drink of choice only for those who considered themselves “athletes,” and college students, truck drivers, graveyard-shifters, and everyone else in between who needed to pull long, late hours but had an aversion to java went to a different aisle in the grocery store.

Additionally, due to the advent of the Atkins Diet and the ensuing affinity for “low-carb” fare, many consumers faced a quandary – why consume 200 calories and 50 grams of sugar in a 32 oz. Gatorade when they could get “energy” from other energy drinks which have no sugar? Gatorade countered with “G2,” which slashed sugar and caloric content by 50%, but an unimpressive campaign, featuring a street-clothes-clad Derek Jeter walking down main-street, failed to lead to successful sales. Gatorade, even G2, was still the drink of the competitive athlete engaging in organized sports played in a rigorous fashion. And in a society that increasingly struggles with obesity and a youth culture more and more prone to electronically-induced sloth (choosing WoW, PS3s, and IPhones over Hide-n-go-Seek, Hopscotch, and RumbleFumble) this simply means fewer and fewer people will purchase Gatorade products.

Unless. Unless Gatorade redefines itself. As a drink of youth. As a drink of casual, weekend athletes. As a drink that identifies with urban and hip hop culture. As a drink for anyone who engages in any kind of activity that causes you to sweat – be it golf, skateboarding, ciphering/freestyling, tagging, flag football, bocce ball or company softball.

Unless, that became G.

Back to the afore-described commercial, which features professional athletes and icons of all stripes, identifiable to all age groups, in all shapes, sizes, and physical condition. On Gatorade’s new website, we learn that their spokespersons include the aged (Muhammad Ali, suffering from Parkinson’s, is featured in the present day rather than by showing footage of him in his prime) and the youthful (Candice Parker is an excellent choice, as she tremendously athletic, strikingly beautiful, and very young). The universally loved (I mean, how can someone, other than Fuzzy Zoeller, not like Tiger?) and the near-universally controversial (Tommie Smith is featured, and he is still holding his single black-gloved fist in the air, reminiscent of the 1968 Olympics). And the voice over is supplied by none other than the comically ubiquitous Lil’ Wayne, who somehow squeezed in the commercial between a guest appearance on ESPN Ocho, a guest spot on 10 new singles coming out next week (including a surprising duet with Toby Keith), a semifinal appearance on CBS’ Survivor and a shocking defeat of Bobby Flay on Iron Chef. Lil’ Wayne gives “G” precious ethos, or, credibility. He is universally loved in much the same way Gatorade hopes to be – by “urban youth” and white suburbanites, young and slightly less young, men and women alike.

If the re-branding is successful, Gatorade will redefine itself as a drink for the masses (think, just a few years ago, Gatorade made commercials about laboratory research and elite athletes, men chiseled like Adonai and Osiruses and women like Athenae, hooked up to machines and traversing like gazelles on treadmills while lab-coat donning scientists wrote in their notebooks). Their viral marketing campaign, which included the quasi-surreptitious re-branded “G” (I mean, you could see that same “G” on the product in your local grocery store) the new website, and new commercials, generated much controversy and chatter in the blogosphere, and I, for one await their quarterly sales reports to see what, if any, impact the campaign has generated.

Whatever the case, the television commercial is an intriguing concept. I would have cast the commercial differently, but then again, I’m no director of marketing and sales for a major beverage brand. But if I were charged with inciting a revolution …

What’s Really G?

Lineup: Etan Thomas (holding his new book of poetry), Kurt Warner holding a picture of Pat Tillman (a Christian soldier holding a picture of a dearly departed soldier), Queen Noor, Naomi Klein, Steve Nash (waving mini Canadian and American flags), Stephon Marbury (holding a pair of “Starbury” shoes), Michelle Obama (going sleeveless, of course), and Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith high-fiving each other. Voiced over by Supernatural, or, if this is too commercial for him, Michael Franti.

Now, that’s G.