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Grab a cold one, drink in Gatorade’s story

Gatorade is the favorite drink at my house.

Every week, we fill what seems like dozens of those ubiquitous green bottles with water, Gatorade powder and ice — our own little secret family recipe — and head out the door for soccer practices, tennis matches and occasional races. I downed cupfuls of the stuff before and after the Cellular South Half-Marathon in Madison a few weeks ago.

We don’t worry about the climbing cost of gasoline — we’re running on Gatorade. And it turns out that a large part of America is, too.

According to ESPN.com business reporter Darren Rovell, “More than 100 billion ounces of Gatorade are sold in the United States each year, which means that approximately 12.2 million bottles of Gatorade, or 142 bottles per second, are sold in America every day.”

There are days when I think that I have bought about that many myself.

Rovell, a longtime fan and drinker of Gatorade, has written a book detailing the beverage’s rise to the top of the sports world, as well its place in American society.

“First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon,” published by AMACOM (a division of the American Management Association), is also a fascinating business story.

Rovell asserts that “Gatorade has become one of the most perfect products in American consumer history. The drink itself has meaning, an unshakable marketing platform, and a sales force that has refused to give up anything to its competition. This has led to an 80% market share throughout the better part of the drink’s existence.”

From its beginnings in a University of Florida lab in the mid-1960s, Rovell says that the brand’s journey to dominance “was accomplished through a targeted and clear market strategy that was refined over and over again by people who understood what made the brand tick.” He identifies nine principles that have been critical to Gatorade’s business success story:

• Make sure your product, service or brand is unique and know what makes it unique.

• Never stop researching the marketplace.

• Identify drivers of the business and take care of them.

• Never stop working to get your next consumer.

• Packaging counts.

• Learn from your mistakes.

• Seek to connect emotion and passion to the brand.

• Stay disciplined.

• Form smart strategic alliances.

Thanks to brilliant marketing moments, including the “Be Like Mike” commercials and Gatorade victory showers seen on sidelines everywhere these days, the brand has a firm lock on the athletic imaginations of millions. We expect to see those green bottles and the towels with the prominent Gatorade logo whenever we tune in to sports.

There’s also an important personal connection that Gatorade has made with many of us.

“As a seventh grader on the Roslyn Middle School cross-country team, I wasn’t exactly an asset,” Rovell writes in the book’s introduction. “Thanks to my occasional walking during races, I finished so far behind the pack that my scores were almost never counted in the team standings. Some people might have given up, but there remained one thing that validated my worth as an athlete. Luckily, 16 ounces of the magic potion could be purchased for $1.29.

“It was not as clear then as it is now, but holding that glass bottle in my hand and drinking the very same yellow, red and orange concoction that was guzzled by all the athletes I admired made me feel as if we had a bond.”

That bond is the central part of the Gatorade mystique. From weekend warriors past their prime to little kids racing around a soccer field, a few slugs of the drink can quench our thirst and replenish that inner drive that pushes us to compete — even if it’s just for our own satisfaction.

So, that’s part of why I’ll keep knocking back a few bottles of Gatorade every week, and thanks to “First in Thirst,” I’ll have a greater appreciation for the marketing juggernaut behind the “Drink of Champions.”

Read more about Gatorade on Darren Rovell’s blog — “An Unauthorized Look At One Of America’s Most Dominant Brands” — at www.firstinthirst.typepad.com/.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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