Jeff Jackett: marketing manager, Gatorade Canada

In 2005, Jeff Jackett helped Gatorade snag hockey's brightest star, launch a sub-line with an iconic commercial directed by esteemed British director Tony Kaye (American History X), set up a sports science institute and redesign its flagship 710 mL bottle. 'The business is on fire,' notes Tony Chapman, president of Toronto-based agency Capital C, which does promos for the brand.

In 2005, Jeff Jackett helped Gatorade snag hockey’s brightest star, launch a sub-line with an iconic commercial directed by esteemed British director Tony Kaye (American History X), set up a sports science institute and redesign its flagship 710 mL bottle. ‘The business is on fire,’ notes Tony Chapman, president of Toronto-based agency Capital C, which does promos for the brand.

Jackett’s gut instinct, sports knowledge and fast action led to what was perhaps his most enviable feat last year: signing hockey golden boy Sidney Crosby before he was even drafted into the NHL. ‘There’s no question I was very passionate about getting Sidney,’ Jackett, 35, says. ‘Canadians play hockey. Gatorade didn’t have a deal with the NHL. So, how do you connect with Canadians through hockey?’

While trying to scoop up Crosby would be a no-brainer now, he was still unproven when Jackett began pursuing him two years ago, just one month after joining Gatorade. ‘He was the one coming into my office saying: ‘We have got to sign Sidney Crosby,’ and I said ‘Who?” recalls boss Derek Estabrook, marketing director,

non-carbonated beverages at Mississauga,

Ont.-based Pepsi-QTG Canada. ‘[Jackett said]: ‘This guy is going to be the next big deal…he could be the Michael Jordan of Canada.”

Of course, Jackett had to do some homework, too. Between starting the pursuit in December 2003 and signing Crosby in March 2005, Jackett and his team closely monitored the hockey press, following Crosby’s progress. They even spoke to people in Crosby’s hometown, Cole Harbour, N.S., to make sure he’s a nice guy. Estabrook credits Jackett’s Michael Jordan analogy with really getting higher-ups on board internally – Gatorade’s U.S. office signed the basketball star before he hit it big, getting him while they could still afford him and before he was scooped up by competitors. ‘[Jackett helped] people [internally] understand the significance of signing Crosby using the Jordan analogy,’ explains Estabrook.

Those around Jackett describe him as a perfect fit for his current role. ‘He embodies the DNA of the Gatorade brand – he’s a sports lunatic,’ says Chapman. Estabrook agrees: ‘If you could pick any marketer who personifies Gatorade, it’s him…he really understands sports as an athlete, as a fan – from all sides.’

Jackett’s solid business background doesn’t hurt, either. He was part of the two-person marketing team that rebranded The Beer Store in the early ’00s that saw the chain’s first major ad campaign and the launch of the magalogue Chill.

Before that, he did a nine-year stint at Unilever after graduating with an administration and commerce degree from the University of Western Ontario. He worked his way up from a store-to-store sales rep to the Sunlight trade marketing manager, where he launched a strategy on profitability that involved offering a better profit margin to retailers in exchange for more shelf space. This wasn’t how Unilever was used to doing things, so it took some convincing on Jackett’s part. But, he was able to do it, primarily by gathering positive feedback from major retailers.

And, it paid off – Jackett’s plan allowed Sunlight to gain the shelf space to launch a new scent and wrest a significant share away from rival Tide. ‘It’s about channel marketing…looking at what Sunlight offers retailers,’ he explains. ‘You’ve got to find a nugget and create a strategy from that.’

Jackett continues to work with retailers to help catch consumers’ attention with POS promos. His challenge after signing Crosby last spring was to figure out how to effectively leverage his hot new property. One of his first initiatives was tying Crosby-related premiums like cellphone wallpaper and voicemail into a mobile SMS promo to support the Canadian launch of X-Factor, a Gatorade sub-line with new flavour mixes like Fruit Punch & Berry. The promotion included life-size Crosby cutouts, which became Gatorade Canada’s most popular cutout ever – people were even stealing them and selling them on eBay. Jackett saw one auctioned off for $135. ‘It’s flattering to have people attach that kind of value to your POS,’ he says.

But it was the cinematic 60-second TV spot ‘Alphabet of Sport’ that really kick-started

X-Factor sales in Canada. Conceived by Toronto-based agency Downtown Partners and directed by Tony Kaye, the commercial depicts all the letters, right up to X, with vivid Canadian sports images ranging from a C stitched into a hockey player’s cheek to a gymnast forming a V with his perfectly sculpted body. ‘We felt there was an opportunity to connect with Canadian consumers in a unique and relevant way,’ explains Jackett, adding that they were careful to include lots of imagery from Canuck teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and Team Canada. The spot climaxes at the letter X, withthe music leading up to an athlete’s gutteral scream.

‘The old adage clients get the work they deserve – he’s a perfect example of that. You really want to deliver for this guy,’ says Dan Pawych, CD at Downtown Partners. He says Jackett was enthusiastically yet non-invasively involved with the entire commercial-making process, right down to choosing the director and the music, and says Jackett’s love of advertising is obvious. ‘He’s almost like a little sponge – I’ve gotta be on my toes with him because he remembers everything,’ says Pawych, laughing. ‘I was not only proud of the spot, I was proud of what it did for him.’

And the spot has certainly done a lot for him: Jackett has even had consumers ask him where they can buy the song from the spot. But, more importantly, it helped X-Factor sales double Gatorade’s expectations. ‘We have evidence that the moment the commercial aired, sales increased at our largest carrier,’ says Jackett. For his part, Jackett’s boss is impressed. ‘He helped show us how big X-Factor could be, and help take the [Gatorade] brand where we want it to go,’ says Estabrook.

After successfully launching X-Factor, Jackett moved on to address one of his concerns – that people don’t know enough about the science behind how Gatorade works. So, with Toronto-based sports marketing firm SDI Marketing, Jackett and his team opened the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) this past fall at the University of Guelph, modeled after the American GSSI in Barrington, Ill. GSSI is a sports nutrition and exercise research facility, with advisory board members like University of Guelph biology professor Lawrence Spriet, and Université de Montréal nutrition prof Marielle Ledoux. ‘[Jackett] brought the right people onto the advisory board,’ notes SDI’s Andy Harkness, who’s been working on the Gatorade business for nine years.

With the lab up and running, the key was letting people know about it. Gatorade did a PR push when it first launched with Toronto-based publicity agency Fleishman-Hillard Canada, sending out media alerts with GSSI lab findings like how hydration affects athletic performance. But, it was the innovative media buy on TSN around another Gatorade property, the World Junior Hockey Championships, last December that really got the GSSI noticed.

Gatorade put together 90-second

mini-features on the institute that ran in between periods during the games. ‘Jeff said: ‘How do we take this new science lab and tie it into the World Juniors?” recalls Harkness. That sparked the brainstorming sessions that led to the mini-features, which show both scientists and athletes interacting in a Gatorade-sponsored environment, positioning the brand as an athletic authority.

This past year also saw the long-talked-about redesign of the standard 710 mL bottle. Jackett was in the right place at the right time – the new Mexican Gatorade bottle design caught his eye at a Gatorade conference earlier this year. ‘While the [Mexican] bottle was smaller than ours and it had a different cap, its proportions were better balanced, it had a heat-shrink label and a futuristic look that didn’t sacrifice functionality – you could grip it better,’ Jackett recalls. He was inspired, and decided to pitch the Mexican design back in Canada. ‘Jeff made it a mandate and aligned everyone,’ says Harkness. ‘I thought it was huge.’

‘Jeff is a big ideas guy. He doesn’t like to make incremental changes,’ notes Estabrook. So far, sales of the 710 mL bottle are up 29% versus last year.

While he’s tight-lipped about what the future holds, Jackett will say that he’ll be ensuring Gatorade is available at the Point-of-Sweat. Obviously, we can expect to see more of Crosby, although Jackett won’t reveal anything more on that topic. A new Gatorade spot is set to launch this month, but, again, Jackett is mum. But, if his past work is any indication, it’s safe to predict it won’t go unnoticed.

SIX QUESTIONS

Favourite movie of all time:

Slapshot. It’s the funniest movie, and I’m such a hockey fan.

First job:

Mopping the floor at my father’s sporting goods store – I was 12.

Greatest strength:

Hmm, that’s an uncomfortable question to answer…. I talk with candor. I’m not afraid to say what I feel. That can sometimes be a challenge.

Number one thing you look for in an ad agency:

How can there be just one thing? I look for a sharp group of people, people I consider interesting, people I would consider hanging out with.

Favourite way to unwind:

Spending time with my wife. It doesn’t matter what we do.

Most crazed sports fan moment:

Okay, talking ‘crazed’ in a Robert DeNiro fanatical way, last September my wife and I were in Stockholm visiting her family. My brother-in-law Henke has a sailboat and together we sailed through the islands of the Archipelago north of Stockholm. We sailed past a beautiful Mediterranean-style villa that was under construction, and Henke informed me it belonged to ex-Leaf defenceman Borje Salming. Less than a week later I was back in Toronto at a World Cup of Hockey event, and I was introduced to Borje over a couple of beers. He was impressed that I could speak a little Swedish and that I had been to his hometown, but he was a little freaked out when I told him how the construction on his new villa was progressing….