Sports brands are not health brands

I had that weird experience of watching "The Checkout" ripping apart the credentials of my client, Gatorade, on campaigns I am currently directly working on. All I could think was what they were saying about sports drinks being bad for your teeth was not only funny and well written, but also absolutely correct. However, as a minor side note, the whole segment was entirely off point and have very close to nothing to do with the brand’s marketing that it was making fun of.

So with that, I grabbed a 600mL Orange Ice, set up at my computer, consumed the whole bottle for energy purposes, then proceeded to spit out the 4 teeth that rotted on the spot and started writing.

For those of you who missed it, there’s an article that nicely sums it up HERE

My first takeout from the segment was not even to do with Gatorade or Powerade, but how is it that sport and sporting brands somehow been mistaken for ‘health’ brands. For this I dwell more on my own experience of my life in a land that existed a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away where I was a young and naive professional athlete who was sponsored by a less prestigious, but equally sugary sports drink.

At that stage of my life, things important to me were words like fast, fit, strong. Not ‘healthy’, ‘balanced’ or ‘care about how my body will be functioning by the time I’m 40' (if that’s a word). So was sports drink good for me? Yes. Is it scientifically proven to work? Yes. Is it bad for my teeth? Why is that even the question.

There seems to be an expectation that people have when it comes to sporting brands. It’s as if because they’re promoting fitness and endurance, they should by association be trying to save the world. Ok maybe not that far, but there’s an expectation that an output of being sporty is being healthy, and this casts this shadow of responsibility for them. Then any unhealthy attributes are interpreted as deceiving.

It’s equivalent of asking someone who has a passion for gambling whether their sex life is suffering as a side effect. Sure, there may be other facets of their life that lead to an increase or decrease in sexual performance that can be vaguely traced back to gambling - maybe they are addicted to the point of not being able to hold conversation anymore and this is driving a wedge between them and their partner. But why should the only fix to the problem be removing the cause? 

Ok so that was a bit of a tangent, but the fact is sports drinks don’t advertise to everyday, dull activities. They only set out to appeal to people about to engage in intense exercise, which is what they’re used for. If they’re Gatorade, they use professional AFL & cricket players to advertise their products, if Powerade they use professional runners like Sally Pearson running, or everyday people ‘ditching work drinks’ to engage in endurance exercise. 

So if they’re marketing to people to train harder, longer, faster, be stronger, etc. then why should the attack on them be for rotting teeth? Is there truly a concern that people might start replacing water with Gatorade as a standard substitute? The chance of that is as high as people replacing soft drinks with double the sugar, or energy drinks with double the sugar + caffeine, with Gatorade as a healthy alternative substitute. It’s not going to happen.

To end my ramble, let’s look at a make believe ‘fitness scale’. And at one end of this scale you have Lance Armstrong at the height of his career to embody the absolute limits of athletic endurance & performance. Then all the way at the other end of it, you have anyone who works in a good ad agency at 2:00pm on a Friday afternoon to embody ‘I could not be thinking about anything less than going for a run right now’. I would say the measure of ‘health’ would be somewhere somewhere in the middle, not the ‘Lance Armstrong drugged up to his eyeballs’ end. But in this scenario, I’d ask who is more in need of a sports drink? And who do sports drink companies try to tell they need a sports drink more?

I’m going to do that thing where I don’t actually tell you but assume you’ve figured it out.

So back to slamming Gatorade or any other sports drink brands. I’d say that referring to them as being ‘unhealthy’ or ‘sugary’ as opposed to ‘replenishing’ or ‘endurance fuelling’ is pretty much the same as referring to a show like The Checkout as being ‘hard-hitting investigatory journalism’ as opposed to ‘passive entertainment’. Let’s just call them what they are.