Gatorade’s Holy Grail

I like this whole “G” remake from Gatorade and TBWA\Chiat\Day.

When I first saw the black-and-white teasers with the horizontally moving tableaux of beautifully lit talking heads (including the ever-photogenic dome of Michael Jordan) and the graphically rejiggered seventh letter of the alphabet, the look seemed so cool and fashionable that my thoughts went less to “gangsta” and more to “Gucci.” And the teasers did what they were meant to do: build buzz and the beginnings of a new brand image for a sports drink that, with its DayGlo colors and ’50s-style lightning-bolt logo, was seeming familiar and, dare I say, old-fashioned.

The spots included greats like Mohammad Ali, while rapper Lil Wayne rhapsodized about the power of the elusive “G”: “It’s the emblem of a warrior. It’s the swagger of an athlete, a champion and a dynasty. It’s gifted, golden, genuine and glorious. It is a lowercase god. It’s the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time. It’s the heart, hustle and soul of the game.”

It brought the earnest eloquence of a poetry slam to the big-money sports scene. The “What is G?” line proved so provocative that for a while, apparently, it was the most searched term on Google — ahead of porn, even. What great timing: In an age when it’s all about the O (as in Obama), it’s pretty inspired to bring new mystery to the G.

That said, I was disappointed with the Super Bowl spot. I was expecting a Big Idea, and we got more of the black-and-white talking heads. I don’t want to be insensitive to the glorious fact that the lineup included a young basketball player with autism, but all in all, it came off as sanctimonious and a bit preachy. (And in any case, the whole celebrity tableau thing is getting tired, not to mention risky. Just look at Michael Phelps, Alex Rodriguez and Chris Brown.)

Now, timed to the NBA All-Star Game, comes “The Quest for G.” It’s a takeoff of a takeoff, which is hard to pull off. And like many of the things TBWA cd Jimmy Smith writes (his Nike work includes “Freestyle” and the “Big Bang” series), the spots (and online episodes at MissionG.com) are so densely packed with references to references that it takes a while to get it. It’s worth the trip, though at times you wonder what the crew put in the Gatorade.

The first surprise is that while the teasers and Super Bowl spot lent a more diverse and “street” vibe to the brand, these ads are based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail — a movie made on a tiny budget in the mid-’70s by a bunch of snarky white British slapstick comedians (and intellectuals) making fun of King Arthur myths and their own Cambridge educations. I guess the Broadway musical Spamalot helped get the Pythonics back into circulation. As for the original, I know some kids still love it — my nephew has it memorized.

There are jokes about the athletes here (Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh appear as a two-headed, three-legged mutant knight), but even those are based on the movie. To call the campaign “derivative” is beside the point, because that’s the whole idea.

It’s all here: the coconut shells for horse-gallop sounds, the chain mail, the wonderful graphic work on titles, the animation. Also, of course, there’s the motley crew, though this time it includes King Garnett the Glorious (Kevin Garnett in a hilarious headdress), Sir Jeter the Gifted (Derek Jeter) and Sir Jimmie the Other Gifted (racecar driver Jimmie Johnson). They’re all pretty bad actors, and considering the series is directed by Tarsem, who normally crafts exquisite-looking multimillion-dollar productions, it takes a while to get used to the “Let’s put on a play” atmosphere.