Gatorade: a prime example of cynical marketing

It should be obvious, but sometimes it bears reminding that people in corporate marketing often don’t operate with a tremdous amount of integrity. For lack of anything better to write, I thought I’d pass along a banal but telling observation I recently made about, of all things, Gatorade.

Gatorade was created by legitimate sports scientists, and while it’s formula is simple–sucrose, dextrose, salt and potassium–it really does have a actual benefit. The sucrose and dextrose are sugars with relatively low glycemic indexes, and the salt and potassium provide electrolytes. All things that are rather important to the functioning of your muscles, and thus it reasons to replace them. Professional sports teams provide Gatorade partly because I’m sure they get money for it, but also because it has been shown to be truly effective.

Not surprisingly, the company has always marketed the product to consumers, who recken if pro sports teams provide it to their players, it must be worth buying. However, at some point, they changed the formula sold to consumers in order to save money. If you look at a current bottle of good old lemon-lime Gatorade, you’ll see that it doesn’t contain salt (though there is potassium) and the sucrose and dextrose have been replaced by the cheaper (thanks to our moronic farm subsidies) but far less healthy high fructose corn syrup. (America truly runs on high fructose corn syrup.) Corn syrup is a great way to get a sugar crash, the last thing an athlete wants to consume. I guess they figured the salt didn’t help the taste and was kind of pointless in the sham they now pawn off on consumers.

What makes this truly cynical marketing is not that the company makes two products of vastly different quality, but that they call them the same thing. Imagine if Honda made special version of their cars with better handling and safety to give to celebrities, trying to make it look like famous people drove Civics.

How much does Gatorade save? Whatever it is, I’m certain truly informed consumers would rather pay the extra few cents to get the healthier old formula. And does any of this really even help them in the long run? Some short sighted middle manager probably ordered the switch to give the company a one quarter boost in growth. I suspect this kind of business “improvement” is behind a lot of American corporate growth, and eventually it is self-defeating. In the long run you don’t grow an economy by shrinking quality. And you don’t maintain customers by fooling them: eventually some insufferable pedant is going to blog about it, no matter how mundane it is.

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