Gatorade this month expanded its presence on social media by teaming for the first time with athlete creators who produce sports-related content on TikTok. The PepsiCo sports drink brand recruited nine athletes for its Social Squad, seeking to appeal to younger audiences whose primary video channel is mobile streaming.
The athletes, who play a variety of sports including football, soccer and basketball, share videos of themselves in action. They also talk about sports and urge TikTok users to make videos of themselves participating in challenges such as trick shots.
"It made sense to introduce a program where we could meet our athletes in a space where they are consuming much of their off-field content — TikTok," said Carolyn Braff, head of brand strategy at Gatorade. "We're always looking for new digital platforms that pique the interest of our athletes and layer into our brand strategies and this was a perfect synergy."
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, this year become the first non-Facebook mobile app to reach 3 billion downloads worldwide, analytics firm Sensor Tower found. The app shows a continuous sequence of videos posted by other users, and personalizes the feed based on people's viewing behaviors and preferences.
Content, communities and crowdsourcing
Gatorade assembled its Social Squad by holding tryouts on TikTok, harnessing the app's power to crowdsource the selection of student athletes. They include people like Briana Green, who plays on the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition basketball team, and Caitlyn Schrepfer, a soccer freestyler whose videos highlight her juggling skills.
"With the Gatorade Social Squad, which was launched entirely on TikTok, athletes are communicating directly with their peers," Braff said. "We're approaching utility and the one-to-one relationship between athletes and communities in different ways."
The Social Squad's content series will run through November as the fall sports season heats up among colleges and high schools. This year's back-to-school season is notable for bringing back more students to classrooms and campuses after pandemic-related disruptions.
Gatorade is cross-promoting the content created by the athletes, while also making its tryout audio available to other creators to use as a soundtrack in their videos. As TikTok users share their footage, brands have a better chance of expanding their reach organically on the platform.
"Gatorade is building a community of creators who authentically love the brand and love sport, and who have become our creative ambassadors," Braff said. "The members of the squad are supporting one another, doing things like commenting on each other's posts, and really operating like a team you'd see on the field."
Expanding beyond 'Skills & Drills'
The beverage brand's efforts to build a TikTok community follow the launch of "Skills & Drills," a mobile video series designed for student athletes. Gatorade in June teamed with Hudl, a video platform for coaches and athletes to record and share highlight reels, to integrate its messaging with original content that would organically reach and resonate with overlapping audiences.
Each episode in the series showcased advice from a professional athlete, coach or doctor on how to improve athletic performance. Among the notable athletes featured in the series, Boston Celtics player Jayson Tatum offered tips on cardio training while George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers demonstrated an exercise to improve coordination as a football player.
"The members of the squad are supporting one another, doing things like commenting on each other's posts, and really operating like a team you'd see on the field."
Head of brand strategy, Gatorade
"We are really proud of the Hudl 'Skills and Drills' partnership, as it allowed Gatorade's partner pro athletes to provide authentic training advice through mobile platforms where students athletes are likely to watch sports-related videos," Braff said.
Unlike traditional advertisements that emphasize a sales message, the series was developed to be educational for younger audiences on the platform. By highlighting advice from professionals, Gatorade sought to position its brand as supportive, authentic and informative.
While Hudl is focused specifically on student athletes, TikTok is more mainstream, with a broader reach that lets people connect with others who share their interests. Gatorade will measure the effectiveness of its TikTok campaign in engaging younger athletes.
"The most important indicator of success, for us, is the community of athletes we're able to bring together on TikTok," Braff said. "The platform continues to evolve, but at its core, it's about allowing creators to experiment and get creative in their own way."
Supporting the creative efforts of its Social Squad members lets Gatorade raise awareness for its brand in a way that's harmonious with the sensibilities of TikTok users.
"By leaning on [student athletes'] expertise, we've been able to launch this program in an authentic way, while also learning from our core athlete consumer," Braff said. "We're continuing to shape content based on what our Social Squad's audiences want to see most."