This past Thursday, the Gatorade Company settled a 2012 lawsuit against its mobile game, “Bolt,” that will prohibit the company from making disparaging comments against the consumption of water. If you think that first sentence sounds crazy, you are not alone. The lawsuit in question came about with the release of Gatorade’s mobile game, “Bolt,” where players control professional athlete Usain Bolt through a side-scrolling footrace. The game encourages players to collect Gatorade tokens to gain speed and fuel, and avoid water tokens that slow them down and decrease their fuel.
Prior to the backlash, the “Bolt” marketing team released a presentation where they outlined how “[they] came up with an entertaining and competitive way to reinforce to teens that consuming Gatorade would help them perform better on the field and that water was the enemy of performance.” This presentation did not help in the eventual lawsuit, which alleged that Gatorade was violating California Consumer Protection Laws by creating misleading statements about the consumption of water. In addition to paying a settlement of $300,000 to the California Attorney General’s Office, Gatorade can no longer advertise or suggest that water consumption is bad or that athletes should exclusively consume Gatorade and avoid water.
While this may seem like another case of a big corporation totally out of touch with reality, it actually has more sinister implications. The fact that a company set a mission statement with the goal to discourage the basic human necessity of drinking water in order to market their product is disheartening, to say the least, but it is the manner in which they did it that is most disturbing. By disguising the message of “don’t drink water” as an integral element to getting high scores in the game, Gatorade was forcing consumers to actively subscribe to their message against their better judgment. Though it might be easy to laugh off the suggestion to drink Gatorade instead of water when seen on a poster, it is much harder to combat the marketing message when players must buy into it in order to participate and do well in an interactive medium. This isn’t to say that the vast majority of players suddenly stopped drinking water. Given the target audience of teens and children, however, it’s not a far stretch to say that influences like this can legitimately cause issues for younger audiences who aren’t always able to think critically about marketing messages. In essence, cases like these could severely influence the thinking of future generations, and it will likely be up to cases like these to set a precedent and reign in potentially dangerous interactive marketing.