Gatorade’s history shows you should never forget your brand’s story

Aug 7, 2017

We meet all kinds of businesses with cool backstories. But, for some reason, they rarely talk about their history.

That’s a missed opportunity. Explaining who you are and where you came from is an easy and effective way to earn customers’ trust.

Just look at Gatorade, a brand that’s smartly leveraged its origin story for decades.

It began in 1965. Back then, football players thought drinking water was unmanly and slowed them down. Unsurprisingly, players would lose up to 20 pounds in a single game, and routinely collapsed from dehydration.

University of Florida Gators football coach and former New York Giants player Dewayne Douglas mentioned this to campus kidney disease researcher James Cade. Cade’s solution was a solution: a mix of salt, sugar and water.

The first batches made people gag. Cade’s wife suggested adding lemon juice. They did, and another researcher jokingly dubbed it Gatorade.

However, Florida’s head coach didn’t want his varsity team trying it first. So Cade fed it to the freshmen. And when the freshmen beat the varsity practice squad in a scrimmage – a game affectionately called “The Toilet Bowl” – the whole team started to drink it.

Soon after, the Gators won the Orange Bowl. National headlines began declaring Gatorade their secret elixir. Here’s a gem from the Florida Times-Union: “One Lil’ Swig of That Kickapoo Juice and Biff, Bam, Sock — It’s Gators, 8-2.”

In ‘67, a distributor picked it up, and the rest’s history – a history Gatorade’s used in its marketing for 50 years. The tale lends authority and authenticity, even though the market’s now flooded with competitors, and some of the original science is debated.

Long story short: don’t forget where you came from. Even if your company’s origin isn’t as colorful as Gatorade’s, it’s still a simple way to build credibility.

Further information on telling origin stories

Lightning Bolt

In case you somehow avoid Gatorade commercials, here’s a great example of one of their several recent commercials that begins by referencing the company’s history, even with a shot of James Cade himself.


The Myth of the Garage

Many of the most popular corporate origin stories are woven in ways that create more noble narratives. The first chapter of this free ebook from “Made to Stick” authors Chip and Dan Heath explains why it’s smart for companies to do this, even if it means skipping over important details.

The Brand Benefits of Places Like the Guinness Storehouse

You know what’s even better than talking about your company’s history on your website and and in your press releases? Creating a physical location for people to experience your heritage. This Harvard Business Review article looks at examples including Guinness, Coca Cola and Heineken.

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