Just Call Me M. (But Please Just Call Me.)

A well-known brand is hard to come by. Why is Gatorade now just G? …..a branding hit or a branding miss…..you decide.

Just ask PepsiCo, the owner of the popular “Gatorade” line of drinks. Gatorade first hit the scene in 1965, when Ray Graves, coach of the University of Florida’s Gators football team, asked some medical researchers to come up with a thirst quenching drink to help his team perform better at games. The result was Gatorade – named after the team – and it became an instant phenomenon when the Gators enjoyed their first Orange Bowl win in 1967.

The drink was popular among sporting enthusiasts, outdoorsmen, gym trainers and others engaged in a healthy, active lifestyle. The brand became synonymous with athletic excellence. In 1992 Gatorade used basketball legend Michael Jordan in a good example of their original branding. Powerful, fresh and enviable results came from drinking Gatorade.

Unexpectedly in early 2009, however, all of that changed as PepsiCo announced a drastic rebranding of its Gatorade product line. According to this fact sheet obtained from the company’s Web site, Gatorade changed the names and logos of many of its products. “Gatorade” became known as “Gatorade G.” “Gatorade AM” was changed to “Shine On.” “X-Factor” became “Be Tough.” “Fierce” became “Bring It.” “No Excuses” became “Rain.”

The old logo is gone. The word “Gatorade” is virtually nonexistent on the labels, now replaced with a large “G.” It is possible that one not aware of the rebranding could pass over the drinks at a gas station in the mistaken impression that the store no longer stocked Gatorade.

The new “branding” is evident when looking at the new commercials for the new Gatorade, simply called G. Now I ask, “Why would a company with decades and fortunes invested in building a brand suddenly ditch that brand for something completely new and completely unestablished?”

Sarah O’Leary, author of the soon to be published book BRANDWASHED: What’s Wrong with Marketing and How We Can Fix it, is one of the experts befuddled by Gatorade’s actions.

“In an industry where experts have evangelized ‘brand equity’ since the dawn of the ad man, the loss of Gatorade falls well outside of logic,” O’Leary writes in a recent column for the Huffington Post. “Just about everyone in the free (and many in the less than free) world know the name Gatorade. The brand’s level of unaided, feel good awareness is the stuff we marketers dream about. And yet, faced with sagging sales, the choice was made to ditch the brand that was over 40 years in the perfecting. In essence, the Kleenex of sports beverages had changed its name to facial tissue.” Or just plain F.

O’Leary is correct about Gatorade’s sagging sales. Sales of Gatorade products have been on the decline since the third quarter of 2007.

The rebranding seems to have done little to help Gatorade. Lukovitz points out that in the first quarter of 2009, Gatorade’s sales volume plummeted 13.7 percent. At the same time, PowerAde, Coca-Cola’s less expensive sports drink, enjoyed an increase of 23.6 in sales volume.

Could it be that Gatorade turned its back on over 40 years of history for nothing?

“Some industry experts have speculated that a much-streamlined design that visually emphasizes the ‘G’, which debuted in January, has also hurt Gatorade’s sales by making the brand unrecognizable on shelves,” writes Lukovitz. “However, PepsiCo executives have said that the designs have been well received by the target audience.”

Maybe. But I doubt it. If Coca-Cola suddenly changed its name to C, it’s a safe bet that sales would go down as the brand was not recognized and the consumer did not have that brand response that is so powerful.

Literally millions of dollars and years of painstaking effort go into building a brand that’s wedged into the minds of every American.
The power of a brand is simply that. If I changed my name to M would you still be reading this blog? We at corecubed understand the power of branding and will do all we can to reinforce that power with our clients. I promise!