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Emotions hit fever pitch as PepsiCo draws fire for Michael Jordan Gatorade advert

By Ben Bouckley , 15-May-2012

A Slam Dunk for Michael Jordan and Gatorade? Picture Copyright: Cliff/Flickr
A Slam Dunk for Michael Jordan and Gatorade? Picture Copyright: Cliff/Flickr

PepsiCo says it is ‘reviewing’ the Public Health Advocacy Institute’s letter to the US Federal Trade Commission, attacking the firm for claiming that Gatorade helped basketball star Michael Jordan win a key match whilst ill, and asking whether film had been doctored to show him drinking it.

The PHIA – which focuses on public health law advocacy – launched a blistering attack on PepsiCo (in a blog post linked to letter sent to the FTC), accusing the beverage giant of “unfairly and deceptively” targeting teens with its current ‘Win from Within’ Gatorade television advert and website.

The PHIA has written to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking it to investigate the campaign, noting that Gatorade’s North American president, Sarah Robb O’Hagan said the brand was aiming to raise awareness amongst teen athletes’ of their nutritional needs with ‘Win from Within’.

‘Fuel to help him do it’

The media features Jordan playing during the 1997 NBA Finals, in the so-called ‘flu game’, while he was suffering from a fever of 103 degrees fahrenheit and flu-like symptoms. He was “able to persist”, according to the TV advert, because he had the “fuel to help him do it” – Gatorade.

In the advert, Jordan holds a Gatorade cup during the game and states that the sports drink was central to his game-winning performance, but the PHAI attacked PepsiCo for creating the impression that, in the former’s words, “so long as you are drinking Gatorade you should not sit out a game or stay home when you are seriously ill with fever”.

Teen athletes – the core Gatorade sales demographic – were already under intense pressure to win, the PHAI said, while the message contradicted medical advice not to play in such circumstances.

Gatorade ‘reviewing’ PHIA letter

The FTC should order PepsiCo to engage in corrective advertising that advises teens not to engage in exercise during a bout of flu or fever, the PHAI said, describe the dangers of playing sports during an illness and state that Gatorade was not intended to enhance teen performance during illness.

Gatorade has also sequenced historical events to “falsely enhance” the role of Gatorade, according to the PHAI, while the body also hints that footage could have been altered to show Jordan drinking a vivid orange beverage rather than just water – when he left the action with just seconds to go.

Molly Carter, senior director of communications at Gatorade, told BeverageDaily.com: "We are aware of the Public Health Advocacy Institute's letter to the FTC regarding our Michael Jordan 'Flu Game' TV commercial.  We are currently reviewing the letter are unable to comment at this time."

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