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Case Study: Gatorade REPLAY

What if you could re-play the biggest sports match or game of your life? This is the simple idea behind Gatorade REPLAY. 

REPLAY is a highly successful brand entertainment property created by TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles for Gatorade sport energy drink, and it quickly caught the public imagination following its launch in the US in April 2009.

The goal was to broaden the appeal of Gatorade, a brand first created for and consumed by athletes to combat dehydration, by broadening what it means to be an 'athlete'. This, in turn, would enable Gatorade to appeal to men over 30 who consumed the sports energy drink in their youth when they were more active. Seventy per cent of US adults do not exercise enough, research shows.

The REPLAY concept, a re-match event supported by an accompanying video series - initially distributed via the web, subsequently on network TV - has been highly successful in the US where three series have been made and it is fast-becoming a global phenomenon as the concept is now being rolled out in other markets.

The Story

Gatorade is the US' number one sports drink and in recent years has built an authoritative presence as a 'knowledge brand'.

"We want to educate athletes about how our products help them perform. And longer form branded entertainment allows us to more thoroughly connect with and educate our audience."

Jill Kinney
Director of Branded Entertainment

In early 2009 the brand, which is owned by PepsiCo, launched a web site called Mission G dedicated to brand entertainment. The idea was that Mission G would be an online portal offering original content, entertainment programming and social networking catering to anyone with an interest in sports, anywhere at anytime. 

Gatorade's US advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles was briefed to develop ideas for brand content to run on this web site.

"In the past, Gatorade positioned itself as the champion of champions. We needed to democratise the brand and decided to try to do this by broadening what it means to be 'an athlete' through branded entertainment," the agency's Creative Director Brent Anderson explains.  

Anderson and his co-Creative Director Steve Howard came up with a number of content ideas including a re-match concept involving small, local sports teams. This idea became Gatorade REPLAY.

"Anyone who's ever done sport will have a moment from their past they wish they could replay - it's a universal truth with a universal draw," Anderson says.

"What was key was that what we did would be a fully experiential platform - that it wouldn't feel 'just' like advertising but news: an event worthy of interest and attention in its own right."

Brent Anderson
Creative Director
TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles

To achieve this REPLAY needed credibility and emotional integrity. "Which is just how REPLAY has turned out. No one has once called 'BS' on it,“ adds Anderson.

The Strategy

All agreed the REPLAY idea had potential. To work, however, the sports teams featured needed to have a tangible reason to want to re-play, says agency Executive Producer Brian O'Rourke who was brought in by Anderson and Howard to help develop the concept. 

"We took our time, parking the idea while we did a lot of research into high school rivalries across a number of different sports," he explains. "We actively looked for games that first time round had ended in some sort of controversy which would give players a reason to want to do it all again."

Yes, it was about settling grudges, O'Rourke adds: "But this would be presented in a positive not a negative way because Gatorade's offer of a second chance tapped into a universal desire we all share to give something we failed at first time around another go." 

The agency's research uncovered an ideal story for Season 1: Easton Pennsylvania vs Phillipsburg New Jersey. These two rival high school football teams, which have played each other every Thanksgiving since 1905. Fifteen years earlier, however, they drew in their final senior year game.

Both schools and ex-team members, tracked down by the agency via local media, were happy to take part to replay the 1993 match that had ended in a disputed 7-7 tie. Ahead of the re-match players, all by then in their early thirties, were put through a ten-week training schedule developed by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute which was filmed for a five-part online TV series. 

"The challenges we faced mainly stemmed from the audacity of the scale of the task," says Anderson. "Co-ordinating players' training schedules, deciding how best to shoot the TV, insurance - all these and more were issues we had to tackle. But the client was totally committed and fully supportive and then, after Season 1 once things like this had been nailed down, it became a far more effortless process."

When tickets for the first re-match went on sale, all 10,000 were sold in just 90 minutes thanks to exposure online and via local media outlets, many of which had been used to track down original team members, original cheerleaders and even original members of the marching band. 

The event took place in April 2009 on an unseasonably warm afternoon. Though on-field temperatures exceed 100 degrees F no players were dehydrated or seriously hurt - a powerful product demonstration. The match took place at Lafayette College's Fisher Stadium and Philipsburg Stateliners triumphed with a 27-12 win over their rivals from the Easton Area.

The online series, charting players' preparations and buzz around the event, then caught the eye of FOX Sports which beat off competition from a number of other US broadcasters to show a re-edited version on network TV the following November. 

This first local game got a lot of local pick up, O'Rourke says: "It even prompted calls from movie studios and TV networks interested in dramatising the concept."

"We weren't really sure what to expect with REPLAY Season 1 but we knew we were onto something when the tickets to the game sold out so quickly and the earned media buzz was building.”

Jill Kinney
Director of Branded Entertainment

Following this success, Kinney was appointed Gatorade's first Director of Branded Entertainment overseeing a dedicated branded entertainment unit and managing development of subsequent REPLAY seasons featuring other popular sports to widen REPLAY's reach. 

 "We learned a lot (from Season 1) which was very high quality content but fairly limited in distribution," she comments. "The biggest lesson was: as much as a compelling story matters distribution and promotion are critical. In other words: 'if you build it they will come' does not apply."

With FOX Sports now on-board as co-producer, the team hoped to benefit from both the additional distribution and promotion this would generate and the access it gave them to additional production expertise and associated cost efficiencies. 

"FOX's involvement reinforced both client and agency's commitment to high production values," Anderson says. 

"They stipulated it had to be more than just an infomercial for the brand. As the story itself was enabled by Gatorade, however, this meant Gatorade product could feature legitimately as a character within the event and it was this authenticity of use which helped strengthen the concept as a piece of brand entertainment." 

There was also more time to plan ahead in terms of team research and selection and athlete training and preparation and laying the groundwork for producing content around both, though the FOX partnership did require Gatorade to give up a bit of control.

"At Gatorade we are extremely hands on and we make no apologies for it. However we did need to give up a bit of control from a production standpoint when working with FOX  - and have since done with other partners like NFL Films and ESPN on subsequent branded entertainment projects," Kinney explains. 

"(However) Gatorade adds value in terms of sport credibility, access to athletes and sports science knowledge with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, and we have found partners are respectful of working with us."

Instead of relying on local media to source games and players for Season 2, the agency created a proprietary Facebook app called Line Up Finder to make the research process more cost and time efficient. And it was by using this that they heard about an ice hockey player called Kurt LaTarte. 

LaTarte had been injured during a 1999 ice hockey match between two local Detroit-based archrivals causing the game to be abandoned. Trenton Trojans vs Detroit Catholic Central Shamrocks became the re-match featured in REPLAY Season 2 which ran in May 2010. Trenton defeated Detroit Catholic Central with a 4-2 win, thus bringing closure to the game that hadn't completed 11-years earlier. 

Season 2 also provided an opportunity for the agency to establish REPLAY as a powerful communications platform with national and international potential. 

A REPLAY League - a grassroots mechanism to enable other teams to track down past members and re-play matches, though without the same degree of mass media interest or TV coverage - was established. Three such games have so far been played though thousands have been nominated. 

REPLAY Season 3, again co-produced with FOX, was announced in June 2010 and involved a re-match between two basketball teams in Chicago. Bloom Township and Brother Rice 2000 boys' basketball teams re-united in November 2010 to settle the score of their game in which Bloom won 42-40 despite a controversial ending involving the game clock. This time round, the Brother Rice Crusaders defeated the Bloom Township Blazing Trojans by a score of 99-93, more than doubling the original score of the 2000 game. 

City-natives Common, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco and No I.D. collaborated to create an anthem song for Chicago inspired by Season 3 of REPLAY -  "We Can Do It Now".

The reason REPLAY can translate in this way is its universality.

"REPLAY Australia recently took place and we are also looking at US film opportunities. The central premise of 'blind, crippled or crazy you're always an athlete' resonates no matter what your nationality. It's just the sport that might change."

Jill Kinney
Director of Branded Entertainment

"We give Chiat a lot of credit for their approach to REPLAY from the start, which was to keep it authentic and take the training and the game as seriously as the athletes did, “ adds Kinney.

The Impact

Gatorade REPLAY has been a major success driving significant regional sales uplifts where each event has taken place. 

In the region where REPLAY Season 1 was staged, Gatorade sales soared 63%. Meanwhile, the campaign generated more than $3m-worth of media coverage from just $225,000 of paid-for media. REPLAY Season 2 pushed this further with REPLAY featured on every major US news outlet including ESPN, USA Today, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated.

Ticket sales for the live events have been astonishing too - all have been sold out, some in as little as 11-minutes. Demand from athletes wanting to re-play events has been significant with thousands now submitted to the REPLAY League. Meanwhile all participating athletes have lost weight, reduced body fat and are living healthier due to the sports nutrition guidance provided by Gatorade.

Gatorade, meanwhile, has strengthened its commitment to branded entertainment embarking on a number of other projects in close collaboration both with its agency and TV networks.

"REPLAY really opened our eyes to the power of brand entertainment. It put us on the map in terms of establishing our branded entertainment capability."

Jill Kinney
Director of Branded Entertainment

"What the REPLAY campaign did was bake the brand and brand message into the entertainment idea from the outset - how brand entertainment works best, rather than bolting it on after the idea was conceived."

Brian O'Rourke
Executive Producer
TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles

"The true power of the idea, though, lies in it being all about true stories of real people, and that everyone can relate to the appeal of having a second chance to play a match again and re-play it was the knowledge and experience you've acquired since."

  • Gatorade sales soared 63% in the region where REPLAY Season 1 was staged 
  • REPLAY Season 1 generated more than $3m-worth of media coverage from just $225,000 of paid-for media
  • In 2010, REPLAY generated 581m media impressions - a 377% increase, year on year
  • REPLAY has featured on every major US news outlet including ESPN, USA Today, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated
  • Demand for REPLAY events has been astonishing - all have sold out, some in as little a 11 minutes.
  • In autumn 2011, discussions were underway with movie studios about a possible feature film using the story of the Season 1 match re-play

In 2011, Gatorade REPLAY won a number of industry awards including D&AD Yellow Pencils for Intergrated and Earned Media and Television and Cinema Advertising / Long Form Branded Content. 

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.
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