Back in 2003 Gatorade decided not to sponsor Ohio high school baller LeBronJames and since his four NBA MVPs that has always seemed like a major mistake.
Especially when sports drink rival Powerade subsequently signed up LeBron as a brand ambassador.
So, when during Thursday’s Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals, amidst intense heat and a busted air conditioning system, the World’s top player cramped out of the game which his team lost, Gatorade made sure everyone knew about it with a bitter Twitter tirade.
PepsiCo-owned Gatorade’s real time Twitter feed, at the moment of LeBron’s distress and his team’s defeat, posted the following message to its 132,000 followers:
‘The person cramping wasn’t our player. Our athletes can take the heat’
This simple, short (yet seemingly petty) tweet launched something of a sponsorship and sports drink industry storm.
Partly because it seemed somewhat petty, partly because Gatorade may not have a personal deal with LeBron but it does have a partnership with his Miami Heat team and partly because many fans claimed to have actually seen LeBron swigging from a Gatorade bottle earlier in the match.
Whatever the reason, by Friday Gatorade issued the following statement: ‘Our apologies for our response to fans’ tweets during (Thursday) night’s Heat vs. Spurs game. We got caught up in the heat of the battle. As a long-time partner of the Miami Heat, we support the entire team’.
Incidentally, the following day James himself responded with an impressively dominant 35-point, 10-rebound performance in Miami’s Game 2 victory.
Powerade were certainly patient in their public response – waiting until Gatorade issued an apology and LeBron responded with a great performance before tweeting:
Coincidentally, the now notorious tweet came just 24 hours after Gatorade launched its (appropriately / inappropriately named?) 10th ‘Gatorade Beat The Heat’ campaign.
This push sees the sports drink partner with the top professional US sports leagues (including the NFL, MLS, MLB and NBA) on an educational campaign to raise awareness among athletes, parents and coaches on how proper hydration can help reduce heat-related illnesses during athletic activity.
Run from its Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), the initiative is a response to the brand’s own research which shows that up to 70% of high school football players showed up for practice inadequately hydrated.
‘Athletes often don’t understand the amount of fluid they lose from sweating and how important it is to replace those lost fluids during workouts, practices and games,’ said Asker Jeukendrup, GSSI global senior director.
‘The Beat the Heat program gives us and these great partner organizations an opportunity to educate athletes, parents and coaches about the importance of proper hydration and safety measures while practicing and competing in the heat.’
Beat the Heat sees Gatorade work with leading experts in hydration and heat safety to compile the Gatorade Heat Safety Kit, an educational go-to resource for heat safety tips and advice.
The Gatorade Heat Safety Kit is available for free download on gatorade.com, nfl.com, mlssoccer.com, mlb.com and nba.com.
One of the dangers in the always on, real time sponsor response strategy is that the pressure to respond to unfolding events fast (and perhaps the lack of a cool editorial filter), increases the chances of mistakes and a subsequent backlash.
There is, of course, a school of thought that says sponsors should stay silent until they actually have something powerful and relevant to say.
Of course, another school says that all publicity is good publicity (and this single tweet certainly generated a lot of publicity – after all the number following Gatorade’s Twitter feed has now doubled to 260,000).
Gatorade Twitter Feed
Gatorade Sports Science Institute