In 2012, Gatorade released Bolt!, a game for the iPhone that used the fastest man alive to inspire kids to try their best, remain dedicated, and always avoid water. Some people found this problematic—including California’s attorney general. On Thursday, The Gatorade Company agreed to pay a $300,000 settlement for promoted misleading and disparaging statements about water.
Bolt! is a typical corporate sponsored side-scrolling game in which gold medalist Usain Bolt has to run through increasingly difficult levels and grab some Gatorade to keep him fueled while avoiding the dangerous water that might compromise his performance. The game’s designer, Manning Gottlieb OMD, took home many marketing awards for its efforts, including the bronze in Mobile Advertising at the 2013 IAB MIXX Awards. But for Gatorade, it’s hard to say if the campaign has paid off because on top of the hefty fine it’ll now have to pay, its future marketing will carry added scrutiny from the state.
According to CNN:
In addition to governing how the company depicts water, the settlement will require Gatorade to disclose endorser relationships in any social media posts. It will also prohibit the company from advertising its products in the media when children under 12 make up more than 35% of the audience.
Gatorade must pay $300,000 to the California Attorney General’s Office, $120,000 of which will be used to fund research or education about the importance of drinking water and proper nutrition in kids and teenagers.
The settlement outlines the misleading impressions that are barred from the companies advertising:
(a) water will hinder and/or adversely affect athletic performance;
(b) consuming water in general is to be avoided in favor of consuming Gatorade; (c) athletes consume Gatorade and avoid all water consumption; and
(d) water consumption in general should be avoided.
According to a presentation from OMD, the game was a wild success, with 2.3 million downloads by 2013, 4 million online users, and 87 million plays. But following the outcry from health advocates, the game was pulled from the app store. And like a doped-up olympian, the game was stripped of its bronze medal on the MIXX awards’ website. A former champion, Bolt! is now a disgrace.
When it was riding high on its success, OMD framed the game as “an entertaining and competitive way to reinforce to teens that consuming Gatorade would help them perform better [...] and that water was the enemy of performance.” But the reality is that the medical community recommends that water be a kid’s “initial beverage of choice as long as daily dietary caloric and other nutrient (eg, calcium, vitamins) needs are being met.” Only in rare circumstances would a sports drink be preferable to water and the American Association of Pediatrics says that “water is also generally the appropriate first choice for hydration before, during, and after most exercise regimens.” But you probably knew that, because you’re not a naive, impressionable kid that idolizes Usain Bolt.
Over a third of the money that The Gatorade Company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, will pay out is going to “advancing youth nutrition in California,” according to CBS News. Since the 1970s, obesity rates in children have doubled, and in adolescents, they’ve quadrupled, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry. The primary culprit from the obesity explosion was found to be the consumption of sugar-containing beverages.
We reached out to The Gatorade Company for comment on the settlement and here’s what a spokesperson had to say:
The mobile game, Bolt!, was designed to highlight the unique role and benefits of sports drinks in supporting athletic performance. We recognize the role water plays in overall health and wellness, and offer our consumers great options ranging from Aquafina purified water to premium and enhanced options such as Propel and Lifewtr. Through these brands and continued innovation, PepsiCo will always strive to provide consumers with choices appropriate for any occasion.
“Making misleading statements is a violation of California law,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “But making misleading statements aimed at our children is beyond unlawful, it’s morally wrong and a betrayal of trust.”