Barbara Lippert’s Critique

This 60-second ad has all the makings of a great fake documentary, on the order of “The Legend of Buddy Lee.” But instead of making us believe in a midget Kewpie face, this one offers the history of a sports drink that came up from a Florida swamp, with a crudely bogus story line that revolves around the “searing question” of why football players didn’t pee more during games.

We’ve got the announcer with the preposterously auth or itative voice, introducing what appears to be perfectly faked, Frank Gifford-era foot age of college football games and marching bands, and signature interviews with a big old linebacker gone to seed (what else is new?) and two scientists in a laboratory, attesting to what happened at the time.

Seen on a split screen, these “doctors” in white coats and bowties are too good to be true—deadpan octogenarians who make Gomer Pyle sound like a Kennedy. The creators really went for caricature in the casting, it seems, and the spot is so entertaining that it would have to be contrived.

Except that it’s not. These are the actual people, the actual players, and this is the little-known story of Gatorade, the oddly named, oddly colored beverage with the lightning-bolt logo. A great American brand, the drink was indeed cooked up in a Gainesville lab 35 years ago in response to the Florida Gators’ pee-pee crisis.

At that time, it was almost a point of perverse and manly pride not to drink during games. “Instead of drinking fluids, players were often given wet towels to suck on during breaks in play,” according to company research. Imagine sucking on towels while in full uniform, playing in the oppressive Florida sun, conditions that, as the announcer explains, “would make a salamander sweat.”

(Standing in the middle of an empty football field, with his combed-back hair, blazer and billowy pants, offering his overblown prose, the storyteller guy seems right out of some Oliver Stone conspiracy movie, but he is indeed Keith Jackson, the voice of college football.)

Former Gators linebacker Chip Hin ton then ap pears onscreen, backed by a row of urinals, saying, “Coach asked why we didn’t [turns to side] ‘go’ [turns back] during the game.” And so scientists at the university started experimenting with a fluid replacement that would give the human guinea pigs the energy to get through the game and, for the team, named it Gatorade. (What were you expecting, Eau de Gator?)

Faster than you can say carbo hydrates and electrolytes, the Gators won the 1967 Orange Bowl, coming from behind to beat Georgia Tech. “Those boys drank that stuff, and they became the second-half team,” says sportswriter Jack Hairston, another guy with a look and a name that you just can’t make up.

Despite the interviews with the authentic slow talkers, the spot is incredibly fast moving, catchy and hyperkinetic, using all different textures and speeds of video and film. It’s also underscored by subtle but great music: “Sum mer in the City” and “Gimme Some Lovin’.” It ends with, “So glad we made it.”

The spot not only does us a service by giving us the unique story of the brand, but also opens up a whole new pee-based interpretation of history: Would wars have played out differently, would culture have changed, if we’d all had adequate fluids? Were the ’50s the repressed dec ade because Americans were dehydrated? Think about it: all those families of five and six living in houses with one bathroom. And the modern corollary exists—ever since Americans started carrying their water bottles around all day, sucking on them like toddlers,we’ve had the rise of McMansions with seven and eight bathrooms each. Coincidence? Maybe not.

At any rate, it’s a highly amusing and engaging spot, and it certainly gives new meaning to “Is it in you?”