California Demands Money from Gatorade to Protect Water from Slander

GatoradeGood news, Californians! Attorney General Xavier Becerra is using your tax dollars to punish the real evildoers: those who would besmirch the good name of water.

You might not think anyone would want to destroy water, since we'd all die without it. But you just don't understand the evils of corporate marketing strategies. Becerra does, though, and he has successfully fought off a malicious plot by a sports drink manufacturer to convince children that water is evil by giving out a mobile video game for free. And the world is just a little bit safer.

This is not the plot of a bad Saturday morning cartoon from the '80s, people! It's real.

In 2012, Gatorade introduced the world to Bolt!, a mobile game starring Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, noted for his sprinting skills. That was what the game was about: Players made Bolt run and pick up gold coins. If players hit a Gatorade logo, he would run even faster. If they hit water, though, he would slow down and lose energy.

Now, you might say to yourself, "Well, water would kind of be a threat to a sprinter if he's trying to run." And people with a lengthy history of playing video games might recognize that water is often represented as a threat and a slowing effect to be avoided in any kind of game that involves running or driving very quickly. And in any event, you might think it unlikely that this game would cause anyone to actually stop drinking water.

Thank God we have Becerra here to set us straight. This game was actually a marketing conspiracy to turn people—especially children—against water so they'll drink Gatorade instead. Fortunately, we have Becerra here to protect water's good name.

Becerra accused Gaterade of false advertising, and he has managed to extract a settlement from the company. His office notes:

Gatorade promoted "Bolt!" on social media, drawing in a youthful audience of which more than 70 percent was aged 13 to 24. The app amassed more than 2.3 million downloads and 87 million games played worldwide in 2012 and 2013. The app was also made available on iTunes for a period of time in 2017. "Bolt!" was downloaded an estimated 30,000 times in California. It is no longer available for download.

As part of the settlement, Gatorade will be required to pay $300,000, of which $120,000 will be used to fund research or education on water consumption and the nutrition of children and teenagers. In addition, the settlement requires Gatorade to disclose endorser relationships in any social media posts and prohibits the company from advertising its products in media where children under age 12 comprise more than 35 percent of the audience. The settlement also prohibits the company from negatively depicting water in any form of advertisement.

The population of California, by the way, is 39 million people. So less than .1 percent of the state's population ever saw this game; most probably never even knew it existed.

Guess where the rest of the settlement goes? It goes to Becerra's office. Some cynical people might argue such a mechanism creates a financial incentive for the attorney general's office to exaggerate the nature of a deep-pocketed defendant's misdeeds.

What inspired this absurd idea that water needs the government to protect it from defamation? It's all about the nanny state. Gatorade has plenty of sugar in it. The original version has 21 grams of sugar per serving, though there are also low-calorie powder versions with about half that amount. And yes, they do market themselves deliberately as an alternative to water, but also specifically for those involved in athletic activities.

So this is another mechanism for the state's health nannies to go on the attack against sugary drinks and try to get money for it. Why bother trying to convince the citizenry to raise taxes on sodas when they can just take the money directly from the corporations?

The press release from Becerra's office makes it clear their attack is partly driven by a desire to control children's sugar intake in order to fight obesity. Gatorade's entire marketing shtick revolves around kids being active athletes, not just sitting around drinking Gatorade in front of the television, but never mind. Experts say you don't actually need Gatorade. The company should just be happy that Becerra is letting them sell its drinks at all.

There are market-based solutions here. Gatorade's market competitor, Powerade, has a no-sugar-added version with zero calories. If consumers actually care about sugar consumption, a switch to Powerade would send Gatorade a much stronger message than whatever it is Becerra is doing.

But then the state nannies wouldn't get a cut of that money, would they?