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your chance!


by Brad Cook
May 6, 2002

You’ve seen the ads: athletes, shown in crisp black and white, sweating and bleeding bright fluorescent colors as they push themselves to run that extra mile, dunk one more basket, or complete one more bench press. They may be professional athletes — Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Derek Jeter — or they may be everyday people pushing the limits of physical endurance.


Those images, coupled with the phrase “Is it in you?”, form the core message behind the Gatorade brand: the sports drink purports to replenish the vital fluids lost during intense physical exercise and help you perform your best.

Gatorade, currently owned by PepsiCo, was the first product of its kind on store shelves, and it is still the most dominant, commanding almost 80 percent of the sports drink market. Its closest competitor is Coca-Cola’s Powerade, which holds steady at around 10 percent.

The brand owes its existence to medical researcher Dr. Robert Cade, who led the team that invented the sports drink at the University of Florida in 1965. The school’s football coach, Ray Graves, was frustrated by his players’ inability to stay hydrated in the stifling Florida summer heat no matter how much water they drank. He appealed to the team doctor, who was one of Cade’s assistants, for help.

Cade and his research team reasoned that water wasn’t enough to replenish the precious salts and minerals lost during an athlete’s workout. After several attempts, they formulated a drink that did the trick and dubbed it Gatorade in reference to the team’s name, the Gators. In 1967, the Gators won their first Orange Bowl and credited the drink with helping them stay strong all season. The drink’s notoriety even made its way to Sports Illustrated when one opposing coach lamented, “We didn’t have Gatorade,” after a loss to the team.

However, the University of Florida showed little interest in the drink, so Cade and his team turned to the company Stokely-Van Camp, which picked up the rights and mass-produced it for stores around the US. Quaker Oats purchased the company in 1983, and in 2001, PepsiCo acquired Quaker Oats in a US$ 13.8 billion transaction. By then, Gatorade was enjoying worldwide sales that topped US$ 2 billion annually and had expanded into new drink lines, such as Ice and Frost, as well as energy bars, coolers, and other items bearing the distinctive orange lightning bolt logo. In 2002, the company introduced Propel, a low-calorie fitness water drink enriched with vitamins.

But how many kinds of enhanced drinks can the beverage market sustain comfortably? The entire industry grows considerably every year, and PepsiCo continues to run neck and neck with Coca-Cola for dominance. However, PepsiCo’s own attempt at a sports drink, All Sport, fizzled miserably and was never able to earn more than 5 percent of the market. As soon as the Quaker Oats deal was finalized, PepsiCo jettisoned All Sport, which clearly indicated that Gatorade was an important part of Pepsi’s overall strategy.

Gatorade’s first to market status gives it name recognition that can’t simply be purchased – as Coca-Cola has discovered. Like eBay, which is synonymous with “online auctions,” and Amazon.Com, which is synonymous with “online shopping,” Gatorade is synonymous with “sports drink” because it was the first of its kind to enter the general public’s consciousness. And because of sponsorship deals with NASCAR, the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA, US Soccer, Major League Baseball, and the PGA, sports fans can’t miss seeing the brand when they attend sporting events or watch them on TV.

In fact, Gatorade may have firmly cemented its presence in the public’s eye when the New York Giants won Super Bowl XXI in 1987. Earlier that season, the players had begun a tradition of dousing head coach Bill Parcells with Gatorade in the closing moments of key victories. As Super Bowl XXI came to an end, the players again snuck up on Parcells and showered him with the sports drink as TV cameras filmed the prank. It was an historic product placement moment.

Because many consumers don’t know much about the history of the brand, PepsiCo has decided to take Gatorade back to its roots. Deciding that 2002 is the drink’s 35th anniversary because it wasn’t until 1967 that it came to prominence, they have returned to the University of Florida, where they will film new TV ads featuring the players who first tested Dr. Cade’s concoction.

Will the ads be successful? They probably won’t boost sales the way endorsements by prominent athletes have, but they certainly won’t harm the bottom line either. Like sports stars who proclaim, “We only have to worry about beating ourselves,” Gatorade’s only concern is that PepsiCo will commit an egregious blunder and somehow fumble away the brand’s enormous market share. But the ball is in their court, and they own the court.


Brad Cook is a freelance writer based in Sunnyvale, CA. He has published over 120 articles in a variety of print and online media since 1995.

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