Gatorade Floods Social-Media Monitoring

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Gatorade’s recently-introduced premium tripartite G-series product line (above) aimed at pro athletes and serious competitors was an attempt to turn the brand’s financial performance around from its recent sales slide. The jury’s still out, but if the strategy succeeds, a good deal of the credit may go to Gatorade’s huge investment in social media  … and specifically, social media monitoring.

At the company’s so-called Mission Control inside Gatorade headquarters in Chicago, four full-time staffers track what is being said about the brand on social media — and intervene when it seems to make sense. Few if any other CPG brands have devoted such immense resources to monitoring their social-media presence, and this is raising lots of interesting issues for Gatorade.[more]

“It’s like we’re a person in their social circle now,” Gatorade CMO Sarah Robb O’Hagan tells the Wall Street Journal.

OK, but as a “friend” of those it is monitoring, Gatorade’s surveillance intensity means its employees continually decide prickly things like when to intervene in an ongoing conversation on social media – and when to butt out. They tend to butt in when someone asks where to buy Gatorade or makes false accusations, such as the claim that Gatorade includes the hot-button ingredient of high-fructose corn syrup (it doesn’t).

Mission Control, clearly using a social media listening software suite, searches for brand mentions and jumps into conversations on Facebook and Twitter accordingly. The in-house social media team focuses on positive mentions made by fans of the brand (not critics) and other individuals whose digital footprint shows that they’re influential in social media.

It’s a digital strategy designed to engage younger Gatorade enthusiasts, the digital natives and early adopters who (ideally) would grow up with the brand. It’s hard to tell this early whether Gatorade’s investment will pay off. Sales appear to be on the upswing as consumers understand the G1, G2 and G3 positioning – but it also was a very hot summer.

And look which competitor is doing even better on a relative basis with hardly any social-media investment: Coca-Cola’s Powerade brand. Powerade sales were up nearly 17% in the first half while Gatorade’s rose only 2%.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, Powerade also plans to roll out a social media strategy in the coming months.

This doesn’t mean that Gatorade will have to accomplish the sports-drink equivalent of a moon shot to be considered successful. But one thing Mission Control doesn’t want to hear: “Chicago, we have a problem here.”

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