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Gatorade Should Sue Itself

Gatorade
Gatorade

The headline you will see today is that PepsiCo is suing Coke , saying that the Coke’s Powerade ION 4 sports drinks downplay the effectiveness of PepsiCo’s Gatorade.

Whether or not you really need the calcium and magnesium that Powerade says Gatorade is “missing,” is really not the story. The story is that it is Gatorade itself over the last year that has downplayed the effectiveness of its own beverage.

Ever since I wrote the book on Gatorade, I've become known as Gatorade's greatest supporter and its greatest critic. And I have to say this is the saddest time in the sports drink’s four-decade history.

For 40 years, the folks at Gatorade relied on telling the general public that their drink was the best because of the science behind it. The strategy worked. The brand managers at Coke’s Powerade didn't even try to go with science. Their best ploy was putting LeBron James on its bottles and trying to come up with wacko flavors that Gatorade wouldn't attempt.

It didn’t work.

But recently Powerade has won the marketing war. Three years ago, it recognized that Gatorade’s point of weakness was its calories. They came out with Powerade Option (10 calories per serving) and compared it to Gatorade (50 calories per serving) in advertising. The ads were deemed deceptive and Powerade had to stop running ads as a result of a lawsuit and subsequent settlement.

But that doesn’t mean that the folks at Powerade didn’t get into the heads of those running Gatorade. A couple years later, after years of insisting that Gatorade had the calories it did because it provided the right amount of energy to the athlete, Gatorade came out with G2, which cut the calories of everyday Gatorade in half. Powerade responded with Powerade Zero. With Gatorade conceding on the caloric front, consumers were confused.

Then came the sodium battle. Gatorade officials had always talked about how consumers needed sodium to replace what is lost in sweat. But when Coca-Cola used its other brand, Vitaminwater, to attack the sodium in Gatorade, Gatorade’s only response came in media that much of the public didn’t see. By taking the high road and not firing back in advertising, many consumers never heard the defense.

Then came the least publicized part of the battle that had many insiders scratching their heads. At a time when Powerade was going after Gatorade’s science, the folks at PepsiCo mysteriously let go Dr. Bob Murray, who was heading up the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI),the self-funded organization that prided itself on sports drink related research. So at a time when GSSI needs to work the hardest, the heart and soul of the organization isn’t there to help.

Gatorade might think it is taking the high road by suing Powerade, but I have to say that’s not the right tack. Winning legal cases doesn’t affect the court of public opinion much.

And in the court of opinion, what do sports drink consumers see while Powerade is telling us Gatorade is missing something? They’re focusing on changing their logo to “G,” having former UCLA coach John Wooden rhyme in ads that don’t have a single mention of anything about or in Gatorade and the brand is utilizing its most expensive relationship with Tiger Woods by promoting his drink through a cartoon.

Gatorade officials shouldn’t spend too much time on this current lawsuit. They should take a page out of the fictitious Coke/Coke Zero ads and just sue themselves.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com