PepsiCo Drinks In Gatorade’s Social Media Performance at Game One of NBA Finals

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Social media is a veritable minefield for companies. While the chance to connect with your customers represents a rich opportunity for extending your brand, one false move and it can also blow up in your face.

Where Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) seems to regularly court trouble with its efforts to connect with customers, getting criticized for advertising that goes awry despite the best of intentions, others like CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS) have scored points for using it — and a good dose of humor — to deflect criticism. Its seemingly ridiculously long register receipts came in for a fair bit of criticism for being wasteful, though it admitted it went “long on savings,” it also noted the register tape is actually coupons people can and do use to save money.

This week PepsiCo’s (NYSE: PEP) Gatorade also showed how to play the game. What could have turned out to be the equivalent of a roadside IED instead was parlayed into a 3-point jump shot at the buzzer.

During Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals, Miami Heat forward LeBron James was forced out of play after he developed cramps in his legs and had to be carried off the court. At one time he had been a celebrity sponsor of the sports drink maker, but has since switched to rival Powerade, a Coca-Cola brand.

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However, that rivalry was missed by a few fans who took to Twitter asking if Gatorade’s elixir shouldn’t have prevented the sport star’s breakdown. Since James was still associated in the minds of fans with Gatorade, it could have become a PR nightmare for the beverage maker, but instead it used good humor to put it to its advantage.

Responding to the tweet asking if it couldn’t have prevented the cramps (Gatorade returns electrolytes to the body, which ought to prevent just such an occurrence), Gatorade responded, “The person cramping wasn’t our client. Our athletes can take the heat.”gatorade1

Another Tweeter asked about its spokesman “cramping out,” but the company shot back, “This is awkward….We don’t sponsor him. #fail” Another asked where Gatorade was when LeBron James needed them, to which it jibed, “waiting on the sidelines, but he prefers to drink something else.”

Other Gatorade tweets included, “We’ve been hydrating all day. We never cramp” and in response to another Tweeter acknowledging the drink “good at anytime of the day,” Gatorade’s rejoinder was “Especially during important games.”gatorade2gatorade3

In the end, Gatorade won the day on Twitter because it handled the situation with aplomb, without ever having to smugly lord it over King James or even having to mention its competition by name.

Where companies are all too often forced to issue mea culpas because their corporate social media accounts are manhandled, or at least the ramifications of their actions aren’t well thought out, it seems just as often if companies use a healthy dollop of humor — think of Arby’s tweeting Pharrell at this year’s Grammy’s for him to give back its hat (it was retweeted more than 80,000 times and favorited by nearly 50,000) —  they can also win the Internet for the day.

Gatorade’s ripostes may not have had the same multiplier effect, but it also was able to keep from having it blow up in its face.

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