The Public Health Advocacy Institute has submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting that it use its authority under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act to investigate PepsiCo’s current “Win from Within” commercial television advertisement and commercial website for its Gatorade sports drink product featuring Michael Jordan’s performance during game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals (hereinafter “Jordan Ad”) that he played while suffering from a fever and flu-like symptoms. This game is popularly referred to as the “Flu Game.” The Jordan Ad depicts Mr. Jordan holding a Gatorade cup during the game and asserts that Gatorade was a key to his game-winning performance. Enforcement action is warranted because the Jordan Ad:
- encourages teens to engage in dangerous behavior;
- sequences historical events to falsely enhance the role of Gatorade in Mr. Jordan’s game-winning athletic performance; and
- contains deceptive product imagery.
The “Win from Within” ad series is designed to target teens, and the campaign is intended to deliver sports nutrition information to teens. PepsiCo’s media buys for the Gatorade Jordan Ad also appear to target teens. The average U.S. teen (12-17 years) saw 1.85 of these ads during the first quarter of 2012, 22% more ads than adults saw. More than half of this exposure occurred on teen-targeted cable networks, including Adult Swim, Teen Nick, ABC Family, and MTV.
PepsiCo has put itself in the position of being a messenger of sports nutrition and health information to its core Gatorade product demographic of teens. There is already enormous pressure on teen athletes to win at all costs by practicing during extreme heat and playing through injuries. The Jordan Ad creates the distinct impression that so long as you are drinking Gatorade you should not sit out a game or stay home when you are seriously ill with a fever. This message contravenes the medical recommendations for people suffering from flu-like symptoms and fever and puts teens in danger. The FTC should order PepsiCo to engage in corrective advertising that advises teens to not engage in physical activity when they have the flu or are suffering from a fever, describes the dangers of competing in sports when ill, and clearly states that Gatorade is not intended to be used to enhance the athletic performance of teens who are suffering from the flu or a fever.