Ailing Gatorade Calls in Michael Jordan

NEW YORK Gatorade, which parent company PepsiCo cited as a drag on second-quarter profits earlier this month, is getting back to its roots with a summer campaign built around Michael Jordan.

Jordan, who first started pitching for Gatorade in 1991 and who last appeared in an ad for the brand in 2003 (not counting a cameo during this year’s Super Bowl spot), is celebrated in a TV ad via TBWA\Chiat\Day. The commercial, which broke on Sunday, promotes a limited-edition bottle featuring the former NBA megastar. Jordan himself doesn’t actually appear in the ad, which shows workers putting together about 19,000 color-coded bottles that light up to show his image. The ad, shot on July 13 in Chicago, is meant to illustrate how Gatorade fueled Jordan’s best performances. Gatorade rep Jennifer Schmit said the impetus for the bottle and the campaign was Jordan’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame this year.

The brand released the Gatorade Limited Edition Jordan Series bottles — which show different black-and-white images of Jordan at various phases of his career — earlier this summer. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week, PepsiCo Americas beverages chief Massimo d’Amore said that the bottles were exceeding expectations.

If so, it would be a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for the brand. Sales volume for Gatorade fell 17.5 percent for the first six months of this year, according to Beverage Digest. Though PepsiCo doesn’t break out sales for the brand, revenue for Pepsi Americas’ beverages unit fell 6 percent in the company’s most recent quarter, vs. a 1 percent drop for Coca-Cola’s North America beverage unit.

Critics say a splashy ad campaign for the brand featuring celebrities like Muhammad Ali, Li’L Wayne, Derek Jeter and others hasn’t helped the brand. “It’s the worst ad campaign in 30 years,” said Bill Sipper, senior partner at Cascadia Consulting, a food and beverage consultancy in Ramsey, N.J. “The most uncool thing is trying to be perceived as cool.”

Sipper said getting Jordan on board isn’t going to help. “Anyone who followed Michael Jordan 30 years ago is not their prime consumer today,” he said.

But Ben Sturner, CEO of the Leverage Agency, a New York-based sports marketing firm, said Gatorade was smart to reconnect with Jordan. “Bringing back Michael Jordan is a no-brainer for them because that’s where they took off and he has a brand. When you think about Michael Jordan, you think about Gatorade,” said Sturner. “I would think a Michael Jordan Gatorade would sell even more than a Tiger Woods Gatorade.”

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Nielsen Business Media