Gatorade fined for discouraging drinking water in video game

Posted on September 24, 2017

It looks as though Gatorade is in a bit of hot water.

In California USA, The Gatorade Company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, has been ordered to pay US$300,000 for advising consumers to avoid drinking water.

Back in 2012, The Gatorade Company released a free mobile game Bolt! featuring the world’s fastest man – Usain Bolt.   It was one of many simple side scrolling games designed purely for marketing purposes. The premise of the game was also simple: make Usain run and pick up gold coins.  To make him run faster if he hits a Gatorade token, and slows down if he hits a water token.  Instructions to the game included the warning to “keep your performance level high by avoiding water”.

Gatorade Bolt screenshot

“Making misleading statements is a violation of California law. But making misleading statements aimed at our children is beyond unlawful,” said Xavier Becerra (Attorney General of California). “It’s morally wrong and a betrayal of trust.”

As part of the US$300,000 fine to the California Attorney General’s Office, US$120,000 will go towards research and education into the benefits of drinking water and a healthy diet in young people. But that isn’t all – as well as Gatorade needing to watch how it depicts water, it is also no longer allowed to advertise to children under 12, who just so happen to make up more than 35% of the target audience.

Gatorade Bolt screenshot

According to a Manning Gottlieb OMD presentation from 2013, more than 2.3 million people downloaded Bolt! with the game played more than 87 million times.  As well as being endorsed by Usain Bolt, other celebrities who promoted the product allegedly included Mike Tyson and Justin Bieber.  Maybe that should have been the first warning sign.

The moral of the story – water is crucial for life, but don’t get on its bad side.