Short-Sighted Tweeting from Gatorade

In my usual morning sports-reading, I saw this article on ProBasketballTalk on Gatorade “trolling” LeBron with the following tweets (click here to view an image of the tweets, in case they ever decide to delete them):

Now if they stopped at the first tweet, I would have reacted really positively – they were responding to an unusual situation (the broken air-conditioning during Game 1) with a quick, on-brand message, similar to how Oreo responded to the Super Bowl blackout two years ago. However, by replying to the fans’ comments on LeBron’s cramping with those snarky comments, it opens the brand up to a backlash in multiple ways:

  1. First and foremost, Gatorade is an NBA LEAGUE SPONSOR! I’m sure the league didn’t like seeing one of their partners criticizing their most marketable player. Even if he has an individual deal with Powerade, they need to be a good partner with the league. If the NBA tweeted something positive about Powerade and one of their endorsed athletes, I’m sure Gatorade would be furious, so why doesn’t it work the other way around?
  2. If you look at the big orange jugs on each NBA bench, they are Gatorade branded. So whether or not it’s true, the inference Gatorade wants to make is that the players are drinking Gatorade during the game, even if they tweeted to the contrary about LeBron. Essentially, this could be seen as criticizing their own product.
  3. LeBron’s contract with Powerade doesn’t last forever, and when it expires, wouldn’t Gatorade be interested in working with the most marketable athlete in the NBA? If I was LeBron, there is no way that happens now. Why handcuff yourself against future potential relationships?

I know Gatorade’s social media marketers probably looked at this as a unique opportunity to be clever, but I completely disagree with their approach here. Yes, they are generating buzz today, but this approach is very dangerous in terms of their long-term strategy in basketball. I’d rather have seen them build off their first tweet with positive messaging, maybe using their relationship with Wade and their well-known imagery around sweating Gatorade. Negative tweets get a quick pop but positive tweets build your brand.

UPDATE: Gatorade has apologized for their tweets:

“Our apologies for our response to fans’ tweets during (Thursday) night’s Heat vs. Spurs game,” Gatorade said in a release. “We got caught up in the heat of the battle. As a longtime partner of the Miami Heat, we support the entire team.”

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