What can Gatorade teach us about marketing

Ever heard of the brand called Stokley-Van Camp? According to Wikipedia, the brand originated in 1861 in the Indianapolis grocery store of Gilbert and Hester Van Camp, who canned fruits and vegetables for their own shop. The same source states that Van Camp’s son Frank is credited with the development of the modern canned pork and beans recipe and went on to found Van Camp Seafood.

While the brand called Stokley-Van Camp may or may not be familiar to you, chances are that you will instantly recognize the name of a small start-up Stokley-Van Camp acquired back in 1967 – Gatorade. (If you’d like to read more about either brand, please google them.) To make a long story short, what can Stokley-Van Camp teach us about marketing?

Our story begins on the page 50 of the Darren Rovell’s book titled “First in Thirst – How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon.” (An interesting read – check it out.) While Rovell in his book states that it was not entirely clear why (initially) college teams started buying Gatorade, he goes on to suggest that,

“Some of the credit for this goes to Stokley executives, who in 1967, had had the foresight to sign a $25,000-a-year deal to be called the official sports drink of the NFL. They then capitalized on this relationship by making the general public aware of what the players were drinking through the use of coolers and cups with the Gatorade logo on them. When negotiating the agreement, Jim Keys had the idea of putting in the contract that all NFL teams would have to put coolers on their sidelines for every game. Teams weren’t required to drink Gatorade, however, and some teams didn’t buy it, because they still had to pay for it.”

Lesson #1: Give people something to talk about. It can be argued that Stokley-Van Camp executives nudged Gatorade’s story in front of millions of viewers and fans through the clever use of now famous Gatorade coolers.

Rovell tells the reader that while not every NFL team was initially using Gatorade, those players on teams that did were great ambassadors for it. Rovell cites lineman Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two Super Bowls in ’66 and ’67: “If the packers stop buying it for the whole team, I’ll go out an buy it myself out of my own pocket.” (Yes, you guessed it right – that was a sneezr.)

Kramer was just one of many early unsolicited and uncompensated promoters for Gatorade which Rovell mentions in his book. Here’s a couple more: Los Angeles Lakers forward Elgin Baylor and Jerry West (whose silhouette eventually became the NBA logo). Jerry West: “I drink it like mad during a game. Since I’ve used it, I never get that real tired, totally exhausted feeling you get in a pressure game. If I had that much water in me I could not walk, let alone run.”

Lesson #2: Word of mouth marketing is the most effective kind of marketing. The best promoter of your business is your customer. If you take care of that person, if you delight or fascinate that person, he’ll walk right out of the door and sell for you.

Lesson #3: Effective word of mouth marketing generally stems from something authentic.