Imagine if Kobe Bryant wasn’t a retired basketball star. Imagine if Kobe Bryant was just rich and invested in a fledgling sports drink company. And then imagine if that random rich dude tried to convince people to drink what that company sold instead of Gatorade.
It probably wouldn’t work. That’s the lesson of BodyArmor, a sports drink company that Coca-Cola purchased a minority share of last week. This industry is one big master class on the power of celebrity. It’s how Bryant turned $6 million of seed money into $200 million in just four years.
“If you don’t have the marketing dollars that the big guys do, what’s the best way to market your product all the time? Get a major celebrity to be a part of your product,” said Duane Stanford, executive editor of trade publication Beverage Digest. “It not only markets your product all the time, but now you have an additional story to tell.”
In this case, the story boils down to: Why isn’t your celebrity — in this case, Kobe Bryant — drinking Gatorade?
Gatorade, a Pepsi product, is the behemoth that looms large over the sports drink industry. Beverage Digest values it at $9.2 billion in the domestic market alone, per information shared by Stanford.
Gatorade is the stuff that gets poured over winning coaches’ heads. Its logo is on towels. Players drink it during postgame news conferences. Those green squeeze bottles with the orange tops are ubiquitous, seen everywhere from youth sports to the Olympics.
There are a million types of Gatorade. One could find pre-workout gummies, in-game drinks used for hydration, postgame recovery juice, low calorie, zero sugar, big bottles, tiny bottles, powder to make coolers worth of it — you name it. According to Beverage Digest, it has a 70 percent share of the sports drink market.
Powerade, a Coca-Cola product, takes up another 20 percent.
That means the task at hand for BodyArmor, with about a 5 percent market share, is monumental. Hence the need for Bryant.
Mike Repole, one of the company’s founders, is following the same strategy he employed when he ran Vitamin Water — find a household name with which to link your drink (for Vitamin Water it was rapper 50 Cent) and heavily market how you’re different from Gatorade, Stanford said.
BodyArmor, founded in 2011, bills itself as a natural sports drink. The first three ingredients on the label are filtered water, cane sugar and coconut water concentration. It’s the market’s premium option, said Stanford.
As such, BodyArmor costs more. A 12-pack of 16-ounce bottles costs $28.78 at Amazon.com, not including shipping. A 12-pack of 20-ounce Gatorade costs $9.05. An eight-pack of 20-ounce Powerade costs $3.98.
(Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, owns The Washington Post.)
That’s why BodyArmor’s new partnership with Coca-Cola is such a big deal for the sports drink industry. Not only does it fold into Coke’s distribution network, it also allows Coke to sandwich Gatorade in the market; Powerade is the bargain option, BodyArmor is the expensive one.
In theory, Stanford said, if BodyArmor is able to keep growing and gain more market share, it could become big enough to force Gatorade to make changes to its product. For example, Gatorade for years resisted developing a low-calorie drink. Then Powerade Zero came out in 2007 and proved so popular Gatorade had to respond, he said, and developed the no-sugar, low-calorie Gatorade Zero.
And that, Stanford said, would be a sure sign of success for Coke and BodyArmor. It’s going to take years to dethrone Gatorade as the sports drink of pop culture, but having the power of celebrity helps.
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