The Brouhaha about #WinFromWithin – History or Silliness In The Making?

There’s something about athletes having a great game when they’ve got he flu.  Just last week, I was talking to a friend and we were both saying that we’ve played better when we were sick and had to play – and we’re not athletes by any stretch of the imagination. That’s why there’s an interesting argument about a commercial that is effectively passed off as a documentary about one of the greatest showcases of the theory that one plays better when they are sick. Taken directly from an article in Broadcast & Cable, the following captures the complaint –  In a letter to the FTC commissioners dated Tuesday (May 8), the Yale U Rudd Center, Center for Science in Public Interest and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law (together, the Public Health Advocacy Institute) asked the FTC to investigate PepsiCo’s ad , which features a stomach flu-stricken Michael Jordan apparently getting some help from a cup of Gatorade in his effort to play through the illness and help his team secure a win in game five (the “Flu” game) of the 1997 NBA finals (the Bulls won in six).

First of all, that was an amazing feat by an individual – one that people still refer to when citing the belief that somehow, you can have amazing games when you’re sick. Second, if you watch the commercial, they do insinuate that drinking Gatorade helped, but Phil Jackson’s VO is all about the drive from within. There’s nothing said that the Gatorade helped him through it. Additionally, it’s not like the team didn’t drink Gatorade through all their other games and only did so when Michael Jordan was sick.

The complaint lodged with the FTC speaks to the concern that the commercial will drive teenagers to engage in “Dangerous Behavior” by continuing to play when they are ill and believe that Gatorade will help them through it.

I guess they have a point if they feel that consumers will only watch the visuals and believe that they will “be like Mike” if they drink it.  My problem is that this one commercial is really no different that every single other commercial PepsiCo has run for the product – drink this and you will perform better. Many would argue that drinking Gatorade (or any of its competitors) will absolutely help athletes compete better than if they drank water or nothing at all.

It then all comes down to branding and history. Gatorade has always enjoyed the fact that they were the first out of the gates with drink products for athletes.  As such, they had a corner on the market and were at seemingly every event – including the NBA finals in 1997. As such, was the commercial not really just a historical documentation?

Whether it really helped Michael Jordan to not only play, but have an amazing game, we’ll never know one way or the other.  What we do know is that many people drink Gatorade when they are sick.  They don’t have to be athletes to recognize how it helps alleviate dehydration. In fact, our family always bottles of Gatorade in storage in case we’re not feeling well.  Was it prescribed by our doctors? No.  Did any advertising say it would help us when we’re sick? I don’t believe so. But, we still use it for those needs because it has worked for us in the past.

It is hard to understand why there would be so much excitement on the part of the public health activists in this case. I do believe that teens need to be educated on how hard they can push themselves, and there needs to be support around them.  But to take it out on a television ad seems a little self-serving. Maybe they wanted to take advantage of the large platform of the NBA Playoffs (the commercial has been running since February – way before the Playoffs) to make their point. Maybe this documentary deserves to be used as the lightning rod for a discussion. Or perhaps the complainants are still bitter about their Jazz’ loss to the Bulls.

Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that the organizers are being silly and just complaining about the spot rather than bringing forward a program to help educate the young people they’re supposedly trying to help. After all, it is history that athletes and spectators are constantly looking to find deeper meaning in. Take the opportunity to allow history to prove your point…


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