Barbara Lippert’s Critique

There’s a dated quality to these new Powerade spots that makes them seem the opposite of edgy. Which is odd, considering that ads in the sports-marketing category have benefited for years from the basics of Nike-fication—humor laced with irony, nuance and an insider’s sophistication and knowingness about the tiniest tics of sports mania. Even more surprising, the campaign comes from sports-hipness central, Wieden + Kennedy, home of Nike and ESPN.

For Powerade, the attitude seems to be, “Listen up, America! It’s time for some wacky, crazy sports bloopers!” Well, not exactly bloopers but a mix of pushing-oneself-to-the-limit-type moments. That includes, in the 60-second mon tage, a shot of some European strongman balancing a petite orange car on his head, which could be a shot right out of an old Mentos commercial. But it fits the sensibility here, which could be characterized as Wide World of Sports’ funniest agonizing home videos.

There are football players throwing incredible passes; basketball players breaking the backboard; a baseball outfielder slamming through a wall to catch a ball; incredible surfing, snowboarding and skiing feats and defeats; and a pre-Jack La Lanne-era image of a guy catching a cannonball with his stomach. This is all to underscore the idea of “very real power.”

Wieden can make anything look artful: The brilliantly fast-paced cutting moves exactly to the beat, a track by the electronica group Crystal Method. The pacing and the music contemporize the spot, and the integration of the text—”Is it possible … conceivable … plausible … rational?”—is also great. (Even though we first saw this tunneling title-card effect about 10 years ago in Nike commercials.) This leads to the best and most unexpected cut in the montage: a shot of Peter Sellers from Dr. Strangelove, answering the questions on the title cards by saying in his hilariously overarticulated, mittel-European accent: “It is not only possible, it is essential!”

The tunneling of the text also relates to the re designed logo, which this time goes for its own iconic swoosh: The top looks like a tornado, or a vortex, or some genie smoke, but is actually an abstracted P. Would that the “very real power” strategy was as direct and forward thinking as the logo.

The idea is to get consumers guessing which feats are real and which are not. To that end, there are three shorter spots. One features the aforementioned outfielder, who is real. Another, which looks like the B-roll of the setting up of a commercial or some video of a pre-pre-practice, shows Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick throwing a 100-yard-plus pass, which seems real enough until the end. The third is the weakest of all: a downhill skier falls down what looks like miles of deep powder but somehow gets right back up.

The Vick spot is fine, if a little too low key. But though the other two sport “Do not attempt these stunts” disclaimers, they are so pre-MTV’s Jackass that they feel like exploits from 20 years ago. I do like the end of each spot, with the exploding bottle of blue stuff (it’s called Mountain Blast).

An interesting battle is building: Powerade, with about 15 percent of the market, has consistently been dwarfed by Gator ade. Pepsi owns Gator ade now, and Coke owns Powerade. Powerade does have some great attributes: for one, a cooler logo than Gatorade, which, with its lightning rod, looks like a 1950s detergent. Powerade also has less sodium and more vitamins. Later this year, the company is introducing brand extensions including Powerade Light and Powerade Psych. (Is drinking an eight-ounce bottle the equivalent of a therapy session? If so, I’m in.)

So excuse me for being simplistic here, but why the need to twist the creative up into a pretzel of the real and the unreal? If all of these benefits (with the possible exception of therapy) actually exist, why even focus on the question of what doesn’t?