The Beat Goes On

“If you want a revolution,” to quote the catchy song lyrics in the recent “Gatorade Has Evolved” commercial, don’t look to the ad’s own imagery. Nostalgic and familiar, it’s the opposite of cutting edge.

Yup, the TBWA\Chiat\Day spot has a definite sizzle-reel feel, as if put together for a sales meeting and everybody loved it so much they forgot to make the real one. Still, it’s nicely cut and, thanks to all the information conveyed (a brief history of sports as well as the product, and the introduction of the three-part G Series drinks), it comes off as entertaining, not overreaching.

“Evolved” features a visual, and evocative, time line for the drink. Muhammad Ali’s legendary footwork is in there, amazing as always, plus, it’s fun to watch Michael Jordan in his prime. There’s also a guessing-game quality to watching athletes like runner Usain Bolt (the fastest man in the world) pop up. The most powerful clip comes from the past: a football player drinking straight out of a Stokely’s bottle from the late 1960s. (Canned-foods packer Stokely-Van Camp once had U.S. rights to the drink.) And there’s a suggestion of the future: By spot’s end, the G Series drinks are introduced like new characters in the sports arena.
So, despite the “we’ve-seen-this-stuff-before” look, the spot conveys a certain charm and ease that’s sweet.

The driving beat of the music is also sticky. Even more importantly, it’s allowed to tell its own story without implicity selling anything. Plus, its outright gospel quality connects. It was written and arranged by Emmy Award-winning producer David Banner, who has roots in the Mississippi Delta region but is much better known for producing hip-hop. Sung with raspy determination by Kermit Quinn, the result is as close to a traditional church spiritual as a song for a commercial can come, complete with processing to sound like an authentically old mix.

The first 15 or so seconds is all bum-bum-bums, whistling and scratching of the vinyl. The vocals start in 1965, when Gatorade was invented. (Eureka!) The sound then subtly changes to match the year on screen. By the end, it’s more modern and clean. That’s smart. But it’s the much-repeated hook, “If you want a revolution, the only solution, evolve,” that stays in the brain.

The drink, with its signature electrolytes, etc., is all about revival of the body, and the roots of the music are Southern revivalist. The lyrics deliver this uplifting, old-timey message: “You should hold your head high, no need to hide/no matter what they do they can’t break your stride.” Available for free download on Gatorade.com, the song has taken on a much-tweeted-about life of its own. Listeners get their inspiration from different evolution/solution stanzas — what they imagine to be the words, and what they hear subliminally. For example, our sister blog, Adfreak.com, reported that a certain “NurseKBreezy” tweeted: “Am I the only one who hears ‘lotion these balls’ in that Gatorade commercial/song?”

Perhaps Ms. Breezy’s possibly X-rated misperception shows that the visual story, with its nicely paced title cards — one reads that hoop stars first “balled on peach baskets” — was so well integrated with the music that she combined the sounds with the written words.

Whatever story the music is telling, it’s the glue that keeps the spot together.

That said, I find the idea of making Gatorade into a series of three products (one each for before, during and after a game or workout) mighty confusing. You’d think the brand would want to appeal to pre-teens and teens who drink it like water. I’m not sure I know any 10-year-olds who can prepare their pre-game space-age pouch, in-game bottle and post-game protein drink ahead of time. It’s hard enough to show up on schedule with the right equipment.

I asked some 19- and-20-year-old guys who like Gatorade what they thought. The weight lifters liked the new post-game protein drink idea, but all were concerned that the regular old Gatorade in the bottle would be messed with (it hasn’t been). And they thought that the pre-game, space-age pouch was goofy.

A spot breaking this week focuses on the before (Prime), during (Perform) and after (Recover) breakdown. Shot in black and white except for the drinks, shown in color, it looks dramatic. (Both spots were shot by Joe Pytka. To his credit, I thought all the early clips in “Evolved” were from actual historical footage. They’re not. Some were created for the spot.)

But back to the new G Series. It reminds me of when, as a teenager, I begged to buy the products that made up this cool new concept from Clinique: they consisted of a cleanser, toner and moisturizer. My grandma responded by saying, “In my day, we used bar soap, period.” The point is that now very few women use bar soap.

So perhaps the three drinks will be the new order. Or maybe it’s some genius counterintuitive move and the PepsiCo marketing people have outwitted everybody. Maybe by introducing all this fancy new stuff, they’ll make kids and early twentysomethings yearn for their father’s old Gatorade.