Inside Gatorade’s branded content play

To reach a broader audience, the brand is tapping into emotional storytelling with NHLers in sledges.

Gatorade hopes a new mini-documentary reflecting its commitment to inclusiveness and passion in sports will lead the charge for more branded content in Canada.

Gatorade showed up at a Mississauga arena where Cruiser Sports’ sledge hockey program plays – which features several players from Canada’s 2014 Sochi Paralympic team – claiming they were being filmed for a documentary. And they were, except for one tiny detail they left out.

The brand approached long-time spokesperson Sidney Crosby to take part in the project, and, working with partners at the NHL Player’s Association, also brought star players Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Logan Couture, Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan Miller to join the doc team at the arena. The NHLers and the sledge hockey players split into teams captained by Crosby and Giroux for an impromptu game.

The video premiered online during the gold medal game of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, during which a 30-second teaser for the documentary aired on TSN. Shirley Mukerjea, director of marketing for Gatorade and hydration brands at PepsiCo Canada, says 90% of the views earned on the video in the first days were gained from search and word of mouth, outside of a social/digital push.

The documentary, as well as a handful of videos featuring extended interviews with players and highlights from the game itself, is now being pushed through Gatorade’s social channels, as well as those from partners including the NHL, NHLPA, Hockey Canada and CHL. In addition, Sportsnet approached Gatorade about airing the doc and now has exclusive broadcast rights. The network will air the full documentary during its editorial coverage on the Saturday of All-Star Weekend on Jan. 24 when the annual skills competition is held. It will also be played on the screens at Columbus’ Nationwide Arena for the fans in attendance.

By going for a more heartwarming story, Mukerjea hopes the documentary has an appeal that goes beyond its typical audience of athletes, saying many of the views and shares of the video socially are coming from parents and coaches.

Mukerjea says the video, produced with TBWA\Toronto, is Gatorade’s first attempt at creating branded content in Canada. She says documentaries like these are a way to provide more engagement on digital and social platforms, where the brand has been trying to be more active.

“How we’ve invested and where we’ve chosen to activate has changed slightly,” she says. “It’s really about finding new ways to connect with athletes and consumers to stay relevant and to ensure the message is hitting the right audience.”

OMD is handling the media buy for the documentary, Praxis is handling social media and Gatorade continues to work with sports marketing agency SDI.

This year also marks Gatorade’s 50th anniversary, and Mukerjea says the year ahead will see more ads focused on that, with campaigns featuring both global and Canadian creative.