The mystifying, abysmal new ads for Gatorade.

Advertising deconstructed.
Feb. 16 2009 9:35 AM

What's Up, G?

The mystifying, abysmal new ads for Gatorade.

The spot:"What's G?" asks a disembodied voice. The voice, familiar to hip-hop fans as that of rapper Lil Wayne, proceeds to explain that "G" is "gifted," "glorious," "golden," and also "the emblem of a warrior." As he speaks, a series of athletes, shot in black and white, scroll across the screen. Several are instantly recognizable (Muhammad Ali, Derek Jeter); others are harder to place. The last individuals to appear on screen are a troupe of masked dancers. A large "G" appears on screen. "That's G," the voice concludes.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

(Click here to view an alternate version of the ad.)

In case you are still confused, the G in this ad stands for "Gatorade." The ad first aired Jan. 1 during the Rose Bowl. No indication was given as to what it was advertising, leaving viewers to ponder the possibilities. It wasn't until the Super Bowl that Gatorade officially revealed that G is the new face of its product. The monthlong mystery was designed to generate buzz for a major rebranding effort, now under way. Pick up a bottle of Gatorade Frost Glacier Freeze (i.e., blue) and you'll notice the familiar "Gatorade" logo has been pushed aside by a large, stylized G. Several products have also been renamed. If, like me, your Gatorade purchases tend to occur in the aftermath of a dehydrating night of drinking irresponsibly, rest assured—the reason you can't find the Gatorade Fierce isn't because you're still drunk. Gatorade Fierce is now called Gatorade Bring It.

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Sarah Robb O'Hagan, Gatorade's chief marketing officer, explained to me that the idea behind the new look and the new ad campaign is to make the brand feel more contemporary and to appeal to the next generation of electrolyte drinkers. Do the ads pull this off?

You certainly can't accuse them of skimping on the casting budget. Gatorade has always used athletes as spokespeople, but it's never assembled so large or diverse an ensemble as this. Pretty much every corner of the sports world is represented: basketball (Dwyane Wade), baseball (Jeter), tennis (Serena Williams), golf (Tiger Woods).

But these athletes aren't working out, drinking Gatorade, and sweating blue, as they would in a Gatorade spot of yore. Nearly all of them are wearing street clothes. The effect is to add another layer of mystery to the ad: Who are these people? It's easy to recognize three-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson when he's wearing his fire suit. Put him in something more flammable and he's harder to make out.

In some ways, this guessing game works to Gatorade's advantage. Even if you don't care what G stands for, the ad tickles your curiosity: "Is that Picabo Street?" you can't help but ask yourself. "I think that's Picabo Street." Before you know it, you're running up Gatorade's YouTube numbers. Yet the diversity of the cast is also confusing. Who's that cocky little kid who shows up after Muhammad Ali? And for the love of god, who are those homicidal maniacs doing that freaky dance routine?

They are, respectively, Chaz Ortiz, a 14-year-old skateboarding phenom, and the Jabbawockeez, a hip-hop dance crew that favors Jason-style hockey masks. No knock on skateboarding or hip-hop dance, but do these guys belong in the same commercial as Bill Russell? 

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