4 Things Brands Should Learn From Gatorade’s “All of the Lights” Ad

You’ve seen it. At least, if you watched the College Football Playoff this year. Or the Super Bowl. Or the NCAA Basketball Tourney. Or you’re one of the 9 million people on YouTube that watched it on purpose (hint — it’s working!). Or you clicked the play button below.

But what can your brand learn from it?

In my opinion, the ad is genius — absolutely packed with great stuff brands should start applying today, no matter what their advertising strategy.

(Also, absolutely massive congratulations to TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, for putting together a brilliant piece of work.)

1. Listen To Your Community

TBWA has been working with Gatorade for a while now, and it’s clear to me they really get Gatorade’s community. Lemme ‘splain.

I’ve watched the Lights ad a couple hundred times. Seriously. Ask my wife. I’ve also read a lot of discussions about it online. I know the things people say about it. But one of the funniest things I saw was a discussion in which one person was totally amazed that Gatorade had used “All of the Lights” as the song for the ad.

“Don’t they know what this song is about?” Another commenter followed that with a million ridiculous speculations about how the lyrical content of a song about restraining orders and jacking up a dude who’s replacing you with your girl relates to the ad.

News flash: it doesn’t.

But TBWA and Gatorade know that. They also know that after the song came out in 2010, this happened (fast forward to 4:55):

Then this happened.

Then this (not as good as the LSU Tiger band, but you get it):

Then this:

Then this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

You get the point! I won’t keep adding them, ’cause there are hundreds. Literally.

You can talk about this all day. Kanye’s huge chorus, the big brass and electric quad drums. The fact that the words are easily applicable to one of the best things in sports, i.e., the lights. All of these are probably reasons why, beginning with marching bands, Kanye’s track made a tear through the sports world and became a sign of legitimacy in sport culture. (The real genius is that Kanye absolutely intended this, but that’s another story for another day).

TBWA and Gatorade knew this. And they knew not only that playing the song as a get-hyped song, but even showing the brief shot of a marching band, would be heard as signs of real authenticity with their sport-obsessed audience.

The song doesn’t have a damned thing to do with sports (and even less to do with Gatorade). But Gatorade and TBWA had listened to their community and listened well. They saw what their community was into, and they’re talking with them.

Before the commercial even leaves the weight room, the message is clear: this commercial is about what you see on highlight reels.

What’s the point: it pays to know where your people are and what they’re talking about. You listen well, and your answer will carry authenticity without you having to say “I’m authentic.”

2. Identify with Their Aspirations

Once it was decided to use Kanye, there were still so many wrong ways to make this commercial.

It could have been all professional athletes. It could have been actual highlight reels with Gatorade logos or pros drinking Gatorade (which, you know, does happen).

What they did instead was to show amateur athletes, the people hoping to be under the big lights one day. The emotional hook of the commercial is the teams we were on or still are, showing what high school and college sports have in common with the competition under the big lights.

And to make the point explicit, one professional athlete gets a cameo and solo: Serena Williams, one of the biggest stars of her generation.

Her presence provides a short break from the intensity before and after. But also, Serena is a sports hero who has handled the light with grace despite trolls really taking shots at her in the press. She’s the best her sport has seen, and yet her brand is individual, relatable, and human.

She’s one of the first women to achieve what even the most hard-lined chauvinist would have to agree is sports greatness. This makes her a point of aspiration for girls everywhere.

Because Gatorade didn’t just make this ad an ensemble of greats, the ad is about us, about how we aspire to that kind of greatness, and about how we get there.

The ad is about how you become great. For that reason, it begins in the weight room and ends on the field. The story arc positions Gatorade’s bars as crucial ingredients in the recipe for the greatness, as part of how you become the person who will shine on the big stage.

When building your brand, positioning is the execution that brings a marketing strategy to life. And by connecting with their customers’ aspirations, Gatorade positions their product between the customer and something they want with all their heart.

They could have spent ten times this ad’s budget putting their names on marquis in a stadium and not had anywhere near the same effect.

Identifying with your customer’s aspirations and hopes allows you to position your brand between them and something they want way more than they could ever want what you’ve got. When you become an ingredient in the recipe for what they really want, you stop being an option.

3. Pattern Interrupt and Confirm

People who don’t like this commercial are virtually unanimous in their reason. I’ll let my friend Paul Horn explain:

I’ve seen this comment more times than I can count. The reason I don’t share the opinion is not because any press is good press. It’s because the decision to have dudes singing with their mouths full is nothing less than brilliant.

First, it’s more positioning: Gatorade bars belong in the same place where Kanye’s track belongs: even in the same mouth!

Second, the singing with the mouth full agrees totally with how young testosterone-fueled athletes act. Baseball players chew tobacco and bum. Steph Curry puts an absolute beating on his mouthpiece every game. Having something in your mouth is part of sports.

But it is not part of how other people eat food. It’s not part of how people sing songs. And it’s not what you do with precious seconds of a 30-second spot. Nobody even understands the words!

This move confirms one pattern — and creates authenticity — while interrupting another. You see this commercial, and you find yourself wondering “what’s he saying again?” It gets attention, and it makes you feel like you’re not “in.” Unless, of course you are. And Gatorade’s interests are served either way.

TV advertising is expensive, and Gatorade’s market is absolutely swarming with new competitors. But this kind of pattern interruption opens up a space for them to speak where nobody is.

Brands are under more and more pressure, especially in paid media, to give the audience something new and different, to say something no one else is saying, or in a way no one else is saying it.

TBWA and Gatorade nail it here, and brands who learn from it can create the space to speak and be heard attentively and without interruption. In Gatorade’s case, this space has allowed them to grab the holy grail of advertising: turning paid media into earned media.

How often does a commercial get 9,000,000 views by people who sought it out to watch it?

4. Call to (Bigger) Action

The ad ends with football players running onto the field screaming “Let’s Feeeeaaaaast!” The slogan of course works perfectly for a product you eat.

But the positioning of the product, between weight room and trophy room, makes the call to action one that refers not to the product but to the whole life of an athlete.

It’s not a call to go buy Gatorade bars. It’s a call to work hard in the weight room, to practice like nobody else, to sell out for your team and do your job, and to win.

To feast is to satisfy your hunger. You’ve worked like you were hungry. Now it’s time to get what you hunger for. It’s time to shine under the big lights. It’s time to feast.

Gatorade Results w/o Gatorade $$$:

Success leaves clues. Very few brands have Gatorade’s advertising budget. But every brand can learn from the success of others.

Gatorade has spent a generation positioning themselves as the drink for athletes. This is the story they’ve been telling since the days when MJ walked on air and then sipped Gatorade on the bench.

That work means they have a very quick finger on the pulse of their customers. They know what matters to them, and they know how to tell stories that will catch those customers where it matters. Where they dream and fear and hope and work.

And on a much lower budget, other brands can listen well, meet their customers where it matters, interrupt the normal patterns of exchange, and position their product in a way that shows its place in the customer’s most important pursuits.

And if they do it well, it’ll be time to feast.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ad. Or what other ads you’ve picked up great stuff from. Holla back here or on Twitter.

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