March Madness: Q&A With Powerade on ‘That’s Some Kind of Power’

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Powerade NCAA March Madness ad "Ankles" 2018

Powerade is introducing a new brand platform, using March Madness as a stage to differentiate the Coca-Cola-owned sports drink around a concept and word that’s right in its name: Power.

The new campaign, “That’s Some Kind of Power” (hashtag #powerthrough) will debut during the First Four March Madness games airing tonight (Tuesday, March 13th). Refreshing the brand with humor and hyperbole, the campaign will elevate powerful moments in sports including the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and the upcoming FIFA World Cup.

With the 68-team field determined on Sunday, Powerade—the Official Sports Drink of the NCAA—is back for another March Madness tournament, this year with an entirely new brand platform centered around POWER.

Powerade March Madness 2018 Power Through campaign

Beyond March Madness, Powerade will own “POWER” through a myriad of other activations including the FIFA World Cup, unique online activations, social influencers, retail support and short-form content to create a holistic, 360-degree, integrated marketing platform for the brand.

So U.S. sports fans will see “That’s Some Kind of Power” evolve with contextually relevant advertisements and activations around iconic sporting events including the FIFA World Cup that kicks off in Moscow in June and POWERADE Jam Fest, the high school dunk contest taking place in Atlanta around the McDonald’s All-American Game, later this month.

Developed by Wieden + Kennedy Portland, “That’s Some Kind of Power” is the latest creative iteration of “Power Through” and will be complemented with a full 360-degree suite of online, social, retail (including producing the sign below) and experiential support.

Powerade Power Through

“‘That’s Some Kind of Power’ was born from the realization that we wanted a product-focused campaign that differentiates Powerade in the increasingly competitive sports drink category,” said Alex Ames, Senior Integrated Marketing Communications Manager, Powerade. “We’re excited to bring a bit of humor and fun to a category that has become overly serious. At the end of the day, sports should be fun.”

The campaign kicks off with a 30-second ad titled “Ankles” — a comic take on “ankle breakers” and the first in a series of national television spots that will air this year to bring to life the brand’s new “That’s Some Kind of Power” platform.

The ads build on Powerade’s deep roots in sports, utilizing hyperbole and humor to give powerful sporting moments even more power, through a fictional account of what could have happened if Powerade had been around “back in the day.”

“‘That’s Some Kind of Power’ celebrates the most powerful moments in sports,” added Jason McAlpin, Senior Brand Manager, Powerade. “You can expect Powerade to show up during the most iconic moments and events in sports, highlighting those jaw-dropping highlights that you have to see to believe.”

McAlpin and Ames shared more insights into the new brand positioning and campaign below:

Why did it make sense to refresh Powerade’s brand around March Madness?

Jason McAlpin - Coca-Cola / PoweradeMcAlpin (right): This is a pretty big shift for Powerade but we’re really excited about it. How we got here: first, it’s important to reintroduce Powerade. Our mission is to be the fuel athletes need to power through and realize their maximum potential. And if we’re not doing that, I’m not doing my job. Powerade launched in 1988 and we’ve had a lot of chapters in this brand, and we’re excited for this next chapter.

Coca-Cola has a few billion-dollar brands and we’re one of them. We sponsor schools and we play in the world’s largest sporting events—FIFA and NCAA March Madness and the Olympics—so we’ve grown into a big brand with reach, but we have a lot more to do. You don’t need to be inside the category to know that we’ve got some great competitors out there and a lot of headway.

When we tried to figure out that growth we went back to our mission, because over the last few years we’ve had campaigns like “Just a Kid” — which was a great insight: no matter who you are or where you are, in the NBA or wherever, at some point you started playing your sport as just a kid in a playground or a driveway. It was a really cool campaign.

This took about a year; what changes prompted this brand refresh?

McAlpin: Over the years, a couple of things happened. The sports drink category has exploded from two brands to more than 30 brands. In some regards that’s exciting but we also had a lot more competition and we had to figure out a way to differentiate and break through. And even the tonality of our campaigns—having that athlete may not always be the way to go. Not just sports drinks but sports-related brands such as Beats, Bose, adidas, Nike have all started telling very athlete-centered stories as well. So within this cluttered environment, how do we find growth and how do we differentiate?

So going back to our mission, we asked ourselves: “What do athletes need? If we’re going to help them and be a solutions brand, what do they need?” The answer was very simple. It was something that’s in our name, it’s something that we provide, and most importantly, it’s what athletes crave. And that’s power.

You’re using a different tone of voice for Powerade starting with this campaign—funnier, brazen, in your face. How did you land on that?

Coca-Cola / Powerade - Alex AmesAmes (right): Sometimes the biggest answers are the simplest. It was right in front of us, on our label. Then we started thinking, “What is power in sports?” It’s distinct. It’s not quiet, it’s not understated. It’s big. It’s hyperbolic.

It’s Muhammad Ali saying, “I’m so fast that last night I turned off the switch in my hotel room and I was in bed before the room was dark.” It’s [the headline] “LeBron James almost wiping out the dinosaurs with one dunk.” It’s the culture of the hot take. It’s [the tweet] “Dear Lord. Jaylen Brown just dunked all over Josh Scott, Josh Scott’s family and all Josh Scott’s ancestors.”

If I asked you to describe Muhammad Ali in five words, you’d say powerful, you’d say iconic. You might get to funny, you might not, but the dude was funny, really funny. What we found was that nowadays, especially with modern consumer sports drinks, humor actually gives the message more power. It helps differentiate us from what everyone else is talking about—this serious athletic power and machismo, if you will.

The kind of power you get from Powerade is hyperbolic, it’s humorous, it’s in your face, it’s got a little bit of an edge to it and will really make us stand out. So our goal this year is to have all athletes everywhere think of one thing when they encounter our brand, and that’s bam, “That’s some kind of power.”

How are you approaching humor, starting with the actor playing your bodega braggart?

McAlpin: He’s a comedian from LA. The idea is I know that guy; everyone knows that guy. We built a whole backstory, a 90-page write-up, so everyone on set knew who this guy was. Sports are fun, they’re a release for most people. It’s easy to get serious, so we wanted to keep sports fun and differentiate the brand in a crowded market. It resonates with our target as well.

And how do you communicate the humor part in your brand voice guidelines for partners and influencers?

Ames: That’s always the toughest part. It can’t just be “Be funny” because we work with so many partners, from our PR partners to our bottling partners to retail partners to media partners, and humor’s hard. So you’ve got to have that world where you can play both.

As for the influencers, they range from hyperbolic powerful athletes to some really funny folks. We’re looking for different, more authentic influencers than someone you may have heard of who’s an actual celebrity.

Powerade bodega cat

Any tweaks to Powerade’s visual identity to underline ‘power’?

Ames: It’s not a complete overhaul—we haven’t touched the label, we haven’t touched the word mark—but with the lock-up, one of the huge things was how do we bring power to life. So it’s a similar font, but it’s a bolder treatment of the font, and there’s a knock-out on ‘power.’ We thought, ‘Why are we hiding power? Power is something that should be at the front of everything.’ We’re still really pushing our visual language, and we will continue to.

Powerade at MSG

How are you bringing the new positioning to life?

McAlpin: The luxury of being at Coke is you’re playing in the world’s biggest sporting events. So two that we will play in is March Madness and the FIFA World Cup as the official drink of NCAA and FIFA. We’re also about bringing power to the individual, not just on the biggest stage but how the consumer, how the individual athlete, can embody power as well.

This is a new campaign, but this is 360. So whether you go into a Target or a Walmart, a convenience retailer or a 7-Eleven, whether you’re in San Antonio or on social media, whether you’re watching the game and the celebrations — everywhere you will see Powerade and you will see “power.” There’s a significant shift with this campaign and in tonality with the creative.

Ames: The first thing we’re going to lead with is our video content. In terms of power, we’ve got this character (in the corner store owner) that everybody should be able to say, “I know a guy like that.” We also promised ourselves that for the NCAA, we would not be that brand that after day 2 people are saying, “I swear to God if I see that same commercial again, I’ll be so angry.” We made six different videos to keep it fresh for those power users. We’re also building sequential messaging.

What does focusing on power allow Powerade to do as a brand?

Ames: What ‘power’ allows us to do is focus on those most powerful moments, whether it’s in the paint, jostling for a rebound. We’ll have post-game recaps presented by Powerade, Instagram mosaic takeovers, and again, it’s hyperbolic: It’s not just slam dunks, it’s dunks over the Empire State Building. On Twitter Amplify, we’ll have six-second pre-roll unskippable video that will run before highlights. It’s text-based so if you’re watching a dunk, for example, it’ll be a “Dunks so nasty they get a NCAA-17 rating” or a “Make it rain so long they built an ark” or “Dominates so much the opposition chants ‘MVP’” — so a lot of powerful sports moments. It’s going to be pervasive.

Powerade Jam Fest

How are you applying this to the athlete?

Ames: Three ways we’re doing that: Jamfest—there’s not a more powerful moment than the world’s best basketball players in a slam-dunk competition, we’ll be amplifying that. And when you’re so powerful you’ve got to have to apologize for how powerful you are. So we’ll have sympathy cards that fans can send one another. And then we’ll be empowering kids by revamping the athletic department of schools.

McAlpin: We’ve been the title sponsor of JamFest for about 15 years—it’s the best basketball players in America, part of McDonald’s All-American Game, at the end of March in our backyard at Morehouse College in Atlanta. There will be custom-made trophies with spinning basketballs, and every little detail will bring power to life. We’ll also have power through influencers, really capturing those powerful moments and having that conversation in a very powerful way by leveraging the right channels as well.

How do the ‘sympathy’ cards work?

McAlpin: One reads “Dear Carl, please forgive me for all those goals I scored on you. I value you as a friend.” Another says, “Steve — sorry man, I didn’t see you out there. I didn’t realize you were covering me, I wouldn’t have made you look so bad.” Or “James, I’m sorry Coach keeps asking you to pass me the ball. I’m embarrassed for both of us.”

We’ve written a ton of these, and the thought here is that so many things are now digital, but you can actually customize this card and send a physical sympathy card to your friend. They’re beautifully designed—we worked with Hallmark illustrators and calligraphers to make them—and it’s still hyperbolic humorous power. That one-to-one communication is something we’re really excited about.

Powerade That's Some Kind of Power #powerthrough


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