Marketing is a tricky game: Businesses must convince consumers to buy their product, even when both the consumer and the business are aware of certain product drawbacks. No product can be everything to all people, though.
For instance, proper running shoes won’t look like Converse Chuck Taylors. What makes running shoes fly off the shelf isn’t their style, but their function. The reverse is also true: Converse can’t market their sneakers like they would athletic shoes. In this case, it’s about style over performance.
The Marketing Dilemma: Handling a Product’s Weakness
Companies in the food industry have a similar dilemma. In today’s health-conscious society, consumers are paying attention to labels. Dramatically high numbers of fat and sugar will turn off many customers.
If a business isn’t selling a health food, marketing can be tough. Most companies generally avoid pointing out unhealthy ingredients in their products and focus more on the items’ positive aspects, never addressing issues that might be considered a drawback.
Ad campaigns and marketing for these products tend to focus on taste and satisfaction. They even appeal to the bandwagon nature of people: “This celebrity likes it, so should you!” While this makes sense, acknowledging the perceived weakness of a product may be a boon to a marketing campaign.
Leverage Weakness for Better Marketing
One company is changing the game. Gatorade, the well-known sports energy drink, has a new video campaign that explicitly addresses the amount of sugar the drink contains. One 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade contains roughly 34 grams of sugar, although the specific amount can slightly vary, depending on the flavor. Sugar is often considered one of the worst ingredients in today’s diet, and people have a tendency to consume far too much.
Since the American Heart Association recommends that men cap their daily sugar consumption at 37.5 grams and women at just 25 grams, Gatorade’s high sugar content could be seen as a sales liability. Gatorade’s new campaign, however, turns this weakness into opportunity.
Gatorade’s Bold Marketing Strategy
Gatorade is addressing concerns about the amount of sugar in its product with a new video series featuring professional athletes. In the videos, professional athletes such as J.J. Watt and Karl-Anthony Towns confront ordinary people drinking Gatorade outside the context of sports or exercise.
The athletes challenge these individuals to “earn the sugar” by getting active and working up a sweat. For example, in one video Watt has one woman push a blocking sled in order to burn enough calories to “earn” a Gatorade. In another, Towns challenges a man walking calmly down the street with a Gatorade to try to dribble a basketball around the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year.
Gatorade’s head of consumer management, Kenny Mitchell, said the “Sweat It to Get It” marketing campaign was born out of a desire to address the amount of sugar in Gatorade – a key component of the product – without hurting sales. Essentially, the company wanted to make it clear their drink is intended for use by athletes who need to replace the sugar they sweat out during exercise.
An Uncommon Approach May Be Successful
The Gatorade campaign is a risky venture, but it looks like a surprisingly successful one. In addition to being used as a sports drink, Gatorade has gained popularity as a folk remedy for hangovers, as well as being popular with consumers who simply like it for the taste. The new marketing campaign, which makes it clear that Gatorade is intended for athletes, risks alienating these other consumer bases.
In contrast to the new ads from Gatorade, companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo (the latter happens to own and distribute Gatorade) have been in the news for trying to protect their market share by lobbying against health bills meant to combat obesity by reducing soda consumption.
It’s a much more common strategy than Gatorade’s approach, similar to tactics big tobacco and alcohol distributors have used in years past. This approach also comes with some risks: No one wants to support a company that sacrifices their consumer’s health for profit. Gatorade’s campaign is different by showing that a company can send out positive, helpful messages to the public that address a product’s drawbacks but still encourage purchases.
Has the Health-Conscious and Sales-Focused Strategy Paid Off?
Recent sales data shows that quarterly and annual sales of Gatorade appear to be doing well. Data from the market research agency IRI shows Gatorade’s various brands of sports drinks (led by Gatorade Perform) dominated the field of sports drinks in 2015, with the overall market share rising 10 percent that year.
It’s too early to tell if Gatorade’s new campaign will result in increased revenue. However, the health-conscious campaign comes off as a legitimate branding strategy, rather than a gimmick to drum up sales.
It’s interesting to note that while Gatorade’s new approach seems to be helping its brand and sales, public consumption of sugared sodas and carbonated beverages is dropping off, in spite of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s lobbying efforts to protect consumers’ access to soda.
Although carbonated soft drinks still led in overall sales among convenience stores in 2015, sports drinks such as Gatorade were a much closer second than they’ve been in the past, and the product shows much greater overall growth.
Consider Other Health-Conscious Approaches
Gatorade’s new campaign makes for an interesting comparison to other efforts by brands traditionally viewed as unhealthy, which are trying to keep their sales stable in an increasingly health-conscious market. Take McDonald’s, for example. Particularly after the release of the documentary “Super Size Me” in 2004, the company has worked relentlessly to convince consumers its food isn’t all that bad for you.
McDonald’s recent “Always Working” campaign in the U.K. aimed to convince parents that they’ve made Happy Meals healthier over the last 10 years, and that parents shouldn’t feel guilty about offering them to their children.
Changing the Product vs. Changing Your Campaign
A big difference between McDonald’s and Gatorade, however, is that Gatorade hasn’t changed the product, just the marketing. McDonald’s campaign is trying to show that it is listening to its consumers and thus changing the product to make it healthier. Gatorade, on the other hand, doesn’t claim to have made any changes to the amount of sugar in their traditional drinks.
However, it’s worth noting that Gatorade recently launched a G Organic lineup of drinks. While these new products still contain a high amount of sugar, they are made with only seven ingredients, including organic cane sugar.
Gatorade’s new ads clarify that the product is meant for athletic competition and that when it’s consumed alongside exercise and sports activity, the amount of sugar isn’t overwhelming for your body. Mitchell actually states that Gatorade is proud of the sugar in their drinks and has no plans to change its formula.
Turn Weakness into Opportunity
Marketing is about explaining to your base why they want or need your product. If your product has a downside, there may be a way to leverage that perceived weakness into a strength, much like Gatorade has done.
The “Burn It to Earn It” marketing campaign shows that it’s possible for a company to stay true to itself while also responding to public health concerns, all without hurting the bottom line.
At Eminent SEO, we can evaluate your company’s brand messaging and marketing strategy for areas of weakness and potential opportunities. Give us a try! Call 800.871.4130 today.