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Gatorade has fueled athletes since its initial creation for the Florida Gators in the 1960s. While the brand, eventually acquired by PepsiCo, helped spark a sports drink category that's set to grow to $5.9 billion by 2021, it's evolved its product arsenal beyond hydrating beverages to include energy chews, protein bars and an app-connected wearable that aims to help athletes track their hydration levels.
Now, Gatorade is wedging further into the digital technology sphere with a new mobile app called Highlights that focuses on letting teen athletes produce broadcast-quality video clips with graphics and "motion stickers" that shift as the videos do. The app, which the brand announced in late May, aims to deliver photo and video editing tools that elevate high school athletes' achievements and transform them into the type of "splashy content" featured on ESPN and SportsCenter, Gatorade's Head of Consumer and Athlete Engagement Jill Abbott told Marketing Dive.
"Our products already do a lot to fuel their competitive drive. But now we're working through how digital platforms can help motivate and inspire them as a kind of fuel," Abbott said.
Up the level of 'oomph'
Gatorade's Highlights app arrives amid a broader consumer shift toward short form, "snackable" video content that people can view briefly or on the go. Abbott said Highlights' inception stems from her team speaking with teen athletes at camps, tournaments and schools, and observing their high consumption levels of sports highlight clips.
"We also saw athletes posting a lot of highlights of themselves, but they didn't have that next level of oomph that made them feel as epic or as big as things you might see coming from professionals," Abbott said. "This made us spot an opportunity that we could fulfill in giving a little bit more excitement and stickiness to their content through a behavior they're already doing online."
Sports highlights are a staple on social media, with TikTok, Snapchat Stories and Instagram accounts like Bleacher Report's House of Highlights reaching millions with viral videos. They're especially popular among young adults and teens — Gatorade's target audience — who react to clips and share them with friends.
They can't handle all those handles. Get the Highlights app and blow up their feed with an offseason workout video. #ThisHighlight ???? https://t.co/JDl7hW67pJ | ???? https://t.co/KHScRQISMI pic.twitter.com/Pv9ik61xDE— Gatorade (@Gatorade) May 30, 2019
With its new app, the beverage maker hopes to capitalize on that social-powered sports subculture by giving young athletes digital tools to create their own slickly produced clips on mobile — all while elevating the level of user-generated content (UGC) around Gatorade's brand.
Getting it into athletes' hands
To promote the effort, Gatorade dedicated much of June to a direct response campaign getting the new app into athletes' hands and generating earned media through press and social chatter. The marketing Highlights push is set to expand over the next few months to include paid media and influencers, according to Abbott. The beverage brand's team is currently ironing out which social stars to work with and plans to use Instagram's new feature that lets brands amplify influencer content to reach a broader audience.
Gatorade has also struck a partnership with Overtime, the video network for high school and amateur athletes. In the the coming weeks, the two will capture their joint target audiences and drive a stronger storytelling push around Highlights' capabilities.
Three weeks into the paid media campaign, Abbott said her team is focused on understanding how people use the app and identifying any gaps in functionality for Highlights' core audience. The campaign is pacing above benchmarks so far, though Gatorade declined to share specifics. The UGC produced on the app is solely owned by the user, meaning Gatorade will not flip athletes' content into marketing materials as of now.
"There's a lot we can do with it down the road in terms of bringing the UGC back into Gatorade's marketing fold," Abbott said. "But today we're just focused on starting the journey with athletes and getting them to play with the app."
Best known as a beverage company, Gatorade's foray into digital services demonstrates how some savvier marketers are diversifying their product offerings and expanding beyond traditional retail marketing strategies to maintain relevancy in the minds of consumers.
Highlights follows in the beverage brand's tradition of exploring the latest technology and extending its "video everywhere" media strategy geared toward snagging younger mobile-savvy consumers. In June, the sports drink launched its first augmented reality portal lens on Snapchat, letting users enter a virtual world around the FIFA Women's World Cup. Other past mobile-focused efforts include sponsoring Gimlet Media's "The Secret to Victory" podcast and using Twitch to broadcast its sponsorship of the NBA's minor league.
While Highlights and other mobile efforts demonstrate how Gatorade's marketing strategy is evolving beyond traditional advertising, the brand has no plans to abandon traditional advertising altogether, according to Abbott.
"Knowing that our heartbeat — our core audience — is a teen athlete, we need to be more engaged in the places and spaces they're in," Abbott said. "This is the first of many ways we'll blend utility and entertainment in ways that put our athletes at the center of storytelling and sports."