Gatorade CMO Refuels Strategy To Engage Digital-Native Athletes

“It’s all about knowing our audience and using the vehicles that will best tell our story,” says Andrew Hartshorn. Among his methods: Snapchat, enabling the brand to “unlock a variety of different experiences.”

Gatorade CMO Refuels Strategy To Engage Digital-Native Athletes

by Keith Loria

Posted on 10-12-2017

When Andrew Hartshorn joined PepsiCo in 1997, he wanted to get the best marketing “education” available. Given the company’s multiple businesses and global opportunities, that’s exactly what he got. Hartshorn’s first 15 years were spent, first, working with the Walkers snack food and, next, with Tropicana juice brands. He joined joined Gatorade in 2012, where he has risen from senior marketing director to VP and CMO.  

“Athletes have evolved, so our product, technology, and way of reaching them has evolved, but at the heart of everything we do is the desire to fuel athletic performance,” Hartshorn told “That focus gives you great clarity in strategy and execution.”

Read on for more about that strategy and execution—including some pretty cool Snapchat campaigns—in this exclusive interview. **What story does the brand wants to communicate?

Hartshorn: No one knows athletes’ needs better than Gatorade. From the moment it was invented at the University of Florida in the 1960s, Gatorade’s mission has been to help fuel athletes to perform at their best. That’s still true today. We’re an integral part of sports culture because we continue to innovate to meet athletes’ fueling needs through new formulas, customization, packaging, and flavors. Can you characterize the importance of digital transformation to the company?

Hartshorn: Our target audience—teen competitive athletes—are digital natives. Digital is where they consume information and entertainment, so, of course, that’s led to a dramatic shift in how we tell our brand story. The importance of authentically being in this space and staying slightly ahead of the curve can’t be overstated for a brand like Gatorade. How does this align with traditional marketing opportunities?

Hartshorn: We really don’t think in those lanes anymore. It’s all about knowing our audience and using the vehicles that will best tell our story. Sometimes that will include a TV spot and a print campaign; in other cases, we’ll lean in to something like Snapchat or VR. Staying hyper-focused on athletes leads to the best campaigns for our brand. What role does data play in your marketing strategy? How do you use analytics to know what’s working and what isn’t?

Hartshorn: For us, data plays an integral role in understanding athletes. From physiology to media consumption, we know athletes are always evolving, so we use data to get inside the mind of a teen athlete. For example, last year, to celebrate Serena Williams’ appearance at the US Open, we collaborated with Snapchat on a first-of-its-kind video game ad within the ESPN Discover section that took users through her 22 Grand Slam games, and planned to unlock a 23rd level if she had won the US Open.

From this, we were able to see that a Snapchat game can be successful in engaging with our audience. The game reached 7.3 million unique users and delivered over 28 million impressions. We also saw that users spent quite a bit of time on the game, with the average user playing the game for about three-and-a-half minutes. As a result of the success of Serena Williams’ Match Point, we created an additional Snapchat game that consumers were able to unlock using Snap Codes found on specially marked Gatorade bottles this summer. Talk about a recent marketing campaign and how it has been incorporated throughout all the marketing channels.

Hartshorn: It’s worth noting that all of our campaigns fall in to one of two buckets. First are product-driven campaigns, which highlight our product offerings, the science behind them, and the benefits they offer competitive athletes. The second are equity campaigns. They are more inspirational, motivational initiatives that drive home Gatorade’s sports culture presence.

We recently launched an equity TV spot called “The Secret To Victory,” which features eight of our partner athletes talking about moments of failure that motivated them to work harder and become the icons they are today. It picked up on a universal truth that we believed could drive conversation.

To give the spot more impact, we created digital content that ladders up to the overarching campaign and also partnered with Gimlet to create a “The Secret To Victory” podcast, in which we interviewed some of the biggest names in sports about moments of failure that have propelled them forward in their careers. Additionally, our PR team secured more than 400 earned media placements and 1 billion impressions, with the spot transcending sports media into consumer lifestyle publications and is now seeing organic pickup.

By thinking of this idea as more than a standalone TV spot, we were able to create a longer-lasting dialogue with our consumer.

Additionally, this summer Gatorade launched two product-driven TV commercials with NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns and NFL star JJ Watt to show athletes that they need to put in extra work while training to perform their best. Not only were these commercials cut down for social, but Gatorade partnered with Snapchat to create Snap codes for select Gatorade bottles, which allowed consumers to unlock exclusive content. What is something you’ve done on social media to further the brand’s message?

Hartshorn: Teenagers spend, on average, three hours a day on social media, so social is a critical place for the brand to engage with our consumers. We focus on the strengths of each channel to deliver the messages by creating bespoke content for our audience. A key channel over the last two years has been Snapchat, which has massive reach and relevance to our audience. We’ve worked with Snapchat on a few programs over the past year that have leveraged the app’s unique storytelling forms, which resonate with our target audience. Can you provide some specific examples?

Hartshorn: In 2016 and again in 2017, Gatorade used Snapchat’s lens functionality to deliver an engaging and playful experience that is synonymous with the Super Bowl. The timing and success of the lens connected our audience to Gatorade’s role in the culture of sports.

To launch a new sub-line this year, Gatorade created a series of athlete-focused videos to highlight how the product delivered a new “smooth finish.” For Snapchat, we created a series of 10-second Snap Ads designed to spread awareness of the product and the benefits for athletes. It ran during the NBA Playoffs exclusively from the NBA’s Discovery channel.

This summer, Gatorade used Snapchat codes printed on bottles to educate consumers on the need to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes during the hottest time of the year. The Snapcodes unlock a variety of different experiences from filters that users can add to their pictures, custom lenses, and a mobile game that features Gatorade’s roster of athletes combined with refueling and hydration messaging. How is Gatorade working to improve the e-commerce customer experience?

Hartshorn: E-commerce is a priority for the brand. Historically, it’s not an area we’ve focused on, but as consumer shopping preferences change, we are looking at ways to meet the needs of athletes, not only with the type of products we offer, but also the options in which consumers have to buy our products. Gatorade uses Adobe Audience Manager. Can you talk about how that has benefited the company?

Hartshorn: We utilize Adobe Audience Manager to enhance audience segmentation and ultimately drive media efficiency. It allows us to leverage multiple data sets to build a clearer view of the consumer, which then allows us to tailor our marketing efforts for stronger impact. We’re all about understanding the competitive athlete and creating bespoke content on the channels they frequent. The ability to pull insights from a variety of data sources through Adobe Audience Manager has been great. Do you build unique audience profiles to identify your most valuable segments?

Hartshorn: Yes, our primary audience segment is the teen competitive athlete. As a result, we are always interested in learning as much as we can about this segment. What social media platforms do they spend most time on? What type of content do they engage with most often? When are they thinking about hydration and fuel? What are they doing to give themselves a competitive edge? We use this information to create innovative marketing campaigns, and it plays a role in our larger business strategy, through product and design innovation. How does mobile play a role in the marketing message?

Hartshorn: Our audience of competitive teen athletes primarily connects to the world via a mobile device, so it’s one of the most critical factors in how we develop and create content. Gatorade looks to create with mobile in mind for everything—videos, still imagery, games, etc.—knowing that’s how it will most likely be consumed. What is your goal in the year ahead and for the future in general?

Hartshorn: A shorter-term goal is to continue developing new products to meet the fueling needs of competitive athletes. As athletes evolve, we want to evolve our product portfolio along with them. Secondly, a longer-term goal is to find ways to merge together all of the different exposures with our consumers through an ecosystem based in technology. While today our consumers may see a piece of our content online, then use our products at practice, and perhaps see a TV ad later that day, we hope to merge all of these exposures together to create a brand experience that carries a consumer through their 24/7 athlete journey.

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