Gatorade G Series: Is it a Potential Marketing Blunder in the Supremely Competitive Sports Drink Industry?

By relaunching its main product and apparently not maximizing shelf placement at supermarkets, Gatorade (owned by PepsiCo) may have actually given the ever-expanding competition a chance to capitalize on an opportunity to compete against the all-new Gatorade G Series.

In 2009, PepsiCo’s Gatorade brand suffered heavy losses including a 10.2% decrease in revenue and a 12% drop in operating revenue from July 2008 to July 2009 according to a 22 July 2009 article in the online magazine Marketing Daily (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=110269).  As complicated as the reasons explaining Gatorade’s recent struggles may be, the thirst-quenching sports drink company’s solution seems even more complex (and confusing).

Thirst Quencher or Energy Drink?

“Gatorade is first aid for that deep-down body thirst,” or so the American market once thought thanks to Gatorade’s popular marketing slogan.  One bottle equaled one solution a long time ago.  Instead, in an effort to market to teen athletes (according to a 23 March 2010 online Businessweek article found at: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-03-23/pepsico-s-g-game-plan-targets-higher-prices-teen-athletes.html) and remain competitive in the sports drink business, Gatorade launched its three-pronged attack on the Powerades and Vitamin Waters of the world.  Unfortunately, the Gatorade G Series (G1, G2, and G3) was launched after high school football seasons ended (usually by December in Florida, which is home to some of the best high school football talent in the nation and only rivaled by states like Texas and Ohio) and missed an opportunity to engage student-athletes at what Gatorade calls “point of sweat.”  The Gatorade G Series involves a more academic approach and less of an instinctual, or even emotional, buying experience for the consumer since the product is now more of a “system” and less of an all-in-one solution.  In effect, the task of positioning the Gatorade G Series in the teen athlete market will be even more challenging than simply enhancing the existing “thirst quencher.”

Will Someone Please Explain Exactly How This Works?

Without incentives to visit the G Series website, it would take a significant degree of curiosity for a consumer to not only view the marketing pitch, but also read the both lengthy and jargon-rich FAQs describing exactly how the Gatorade G Series works (found at: http://www.gatorade.com/frequently_asked_questions/default.aspx).  None of that information can be fairly summed up in a 30-second TV spot and one wonders – now that the Gatorade brand has diluted itself – if Gatorade G2 (number 2 of 3 in the product line representing Gatorade products consumed before, during, and after competition, respectively) can deliver on the promises of the original so-called “thirst quencher” the American public has known for decades.

Poor shelf placement and a lack of interactive displays at supermarkets handicap the new Gatorade’s visibility at point-of-sale.

Here it is: the Gatorade G Series. Could this common display really be an example of how Gatorade has "evolved?"

At a large chain supermarket in one of Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods on the North Side, one finds a missed opportunity for the brand to engage its customers and introduce the new product.  On Gatorade’s website (http://www.gatorade.com/default.aspx#gseries?s=gseries), the company claims to have “evolved” its product.  If it has truly evolved, then a short explanation near the product display would help early adopters decide on “G” before moving on to otherwise more familiar items.  An exciting display could help increase consumer interest.  If Gatorade complemented its shelf space with interactive end-cap displays touting its official sponsorship of the NFL and sold the pass-thru rights to the host supermarket, the brand would not only augment its efforts to sell G Series products as a real “evolutionary” step ahead of its competition, but it would help the supermarket increase its sales figures as well.  Also, the end-cap displays could include brief descriptions of all three components of the Gatorade G Series and educate consumers at point of sale in order to be more present at “point of sweat.”

Essentially, Gatorade could be taking market share away from itself with the new G Series by discontinuing its “Gatorade Thirst Quencher” as a simple, standalone product.  Were it not because I read the long online documents, I would still think 1) that buying Gatorade G2 meant buying only 1/3 of the entire Gatorade product and 2) you get the final product in just one bottle of Powerade or Vitamin Water costing about $2-$3 as opposed to the entire Gatorade G Series which almost reaches a $10 price point for just one full “before, during, and after” treatment of G1, G2, and G3.  It appears a bit audacious to position a brand/product this way, especially while the latest unemployment figures in America (August 2010) hover just under 10%.

Conclusions

Product displays and shelf position are only two of the most hotly negotiated items in contracts between vendors and suppliers.

It appears that Gatorade has not maximized its presence in supermarkets in the Chicago area, nor has it adequately introduced the G Series to consumers.  Or has it?  Powerade and Vitamin Water are sold in one bottle costing roughly $2, yet Gatorade is now available as a set of three items that cost nearly $10 when purchased as a set.  If consumers read the seemingly unintelligible writing on a G2 bottle, they will find the phrase “thirst quencher.”  Aside from that, there is no indication that G2 is actually an enhanced form of Gatorade the market has always known.

By ridding itself of “Gatorade Thirst Quencher” – an all-in-one concept that Powerade, Vitamin Water, and others still appear to provide and imitate – Gatorade eliminated the product that started the sports drink industry and must now reinvent itself.  Sure, the Gatorade name is still the most recognizable sports drink brand in the world, but it appears that the company took several steps back by not simply positioning the G Series as an addition to its product line that would always include an item known for roughly thirty years simply as “Gatorade Thirst Quencher.”

Market share is now more up for grabs than ever before in the sports drink market.  Hopefully, for Gatorade’s sake, its positioning the G Series to compete directly with its opponents.  I have no doubt that Gatorade will find a way to make the G Series a success; after all, it created the industry over thirty years ago.  It will be interesting to see how the G Series performs over the next year or so.  It takes courage to try something completely new in an industry that has not appeared to change much in three decades.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Plain and simple... different flavors and different vitamins/minerals. Make your choice.

Powerade still sells its original product even as it launches different lines aimed at athletes who use a variety of training methods.


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  1. From the first time I saw “G Series” advertised on Sportscenter (I can only imagine how much they pumped into that ad campaign) I thought it was to gimmicky, to complicated, and just a generally poor idea. When you own the Gatorade brand, you have an intrinsic advantage in your industry. The key, in my view, to staying on top (from a marketing perspective) lies in simplicity of message. The suits at Pepsi Co. who approved this one deserve to get taken to the cleaners.

    • Dear Mat,

      Sadly, one even sees how PepsiCo diluted the “Gatorade” brand in the picture/ad I included at the top of the article. Where do you clearly see the word “Gatorade” anymore? On “G2,” the so-called original (which it is not, since PepsiCo changed the formula to fit into more of a “lifestyle” market by lowering the calorie count, for example) the great brand name we have known for thirty years is typed in grey letters on a grey background. Now it’s just “G.”

      If that’s the new brand they wish to develop, it will take far more work to elevate G to its predecessor’s level. After all, Gatorade became a household name after thirty years since it was the first of its kind and had little – if any – competition for a long time. Now that the market is saturated and PepsiCo has defeated its own Gatorade brand, the folks in their marketing department have their work cut out for them as they try to build this new brand and introduce “G” to popular consumer lexicon. They know their stuff over at PepsiCo, but will it be enough to make this new brand successful? I think so. But, only time will tell, I suppose.

      Cam Suarez-Bitar.

    • Jason White
    • October 15th, 2010

    Gatorade ignores new trends and only sticks to the main celebrity athletes. It only sponsors the winners. Then, like you point out it does this ridiculously stupid campaign because someone at Pepsi must have said ‘let’s integrate internet and Facebook and … hey let’s mobile phone and Bluetooth all-in-one’!

    These guys are MORONS. They should be doing what Budweiser does … try to market to every little sports cluster on the planet. Give the rugby guys something, reach out to lacrosse, reach out to surfers, soccer, soccer, skateboarders, etc. But no … they throw everything at ONE ATHLETE and try to ride his/her coat tails. Nobody cares anymore – the world has changed. And then – they try to create magic with this stupid idea.

    They aren’t marketers – they’re MORONS!

    Thanks for the article …

    • Dear Jason,

      You are welcome, and thanks for your comment and readership.

      I would not go as far as to call them “morons,” but I do believe that their strategy could use some tweaking. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has become a necessary element of sports marketing simply because traditional measured media is no longer the most direct channel a brand/property can use to reach its audience or market. With every year that passes, people are choosing their information (as opposed to passively receiving it from the radio or TV) more through their cell phones than traditional measured media. Huge changes are taking place in marketing… it seems as though 100 years after the Industrial Revolution, we are seeing the Marketing Revolution. I am sure you have noticed some of these changes yourself (Facebook and Twitter have become a necessary evil!)

      Gatorade tried something new, but it is not getting much traction, so far. I agree 100% with you regarding the fact that they seek the endorsements of individual athletes as opposed to entire teams or different sports than the usual big three (see http://csbcomsportsbiz.com/2010/07/27/adidas-activates-new-zealand-all-blacks-rugby-team-sponsorship/ for an example of a brand that aligns itself with rugby, a team, and tradition). Doing so would actually lower their risk of sports marketing’s Falling Star Syndrome (i.e. Tiger Woods, etc.) Budweiser, as you mentioned, is a fine example of how to market in sports. Adidas and Allstate are two more.

      Sponsorship is all about emotion, and I think that your criticism of relying on just one athlete has merit. I believe there is much more emotion tied to a team than to just one player. Unless, of course, we are talking about Michael Jordan. He is the exception, since he – without argument – is the greatest athlete in the history of modern sport. As he captured the public’s hearts and defied even the wildest of imaginations through his own incredible feats on the court, he dominated basketball like no other athlete ever dominated any other sport. Nevertheless, your thoughts on brands being sponsored by individual athletes is spot on.

      Let’s see what happens. PepsiCo and Gatorade have one of the most innovative marketing departments in the world, and I am sure that they will make any necessary adjustments to ensure that the G Series survives and succeeds. At this point in the G Series’ life cycle, however, it is in a bit of trouble. The message needs to be more consistent, cohesive, and simplified. Interactive end cap displays, ads in measured media (such as broadcast TV) that describe the roles of all three “Gs,” direct communication with their market and end-users through social media outlets, and effective sports and event sponsorships would help them educate consumers as to what, exactly, the Gatorade G Series is and how it works.

      Thanks for your comments, Jason. I hope to read more of your contributions in the future.

      Best regards,

      Cam Suarez-Bitar.

  2. A quick follow-up on the Gatorade G-Series…

    Over the last month or so, I have seen more Gatorade G-Series commercials during major sporting events (i.e. NBA Playoffs, NBA Finals, etc.) that actually offer a simpler, more concise look at what each of the three elements offer potential users.

    It would be interesting to see their 2011 sales figures and compare them to 2010. I think “G” can gain some traction through the simplified presentation/approach the company is now taking. Let’s see what happens!

    –Cam Suarez-Bitar.

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