In 2012, Gatorade pumped out a free mobile game called Bolt! that had you controlling the world's fastest man (Usain Bolt) as he ran across the screen picking up gold coins. To tie it into their product, Bolt would gain fuel and run faster if he picked up a Gatorade icon. In contrast to that, he would lose fuel and slow down if he picked up a water icon. Players were clued into this by opening instructions that said, "Keep your performance level high by avoiding water."
Now, five years later, that poor advice will cost the Gatorade a six-figure settlement as an agreement was made for them to pay $300,000 to the California Attorney General's Office. In addition to that monetary penalty, the company will no longer be able to make disparaging comments about water. They'll also have to disclose their relationships with endorsers in posts on social media, and cannot market their products in media if more than 35 percent of the audience is 12 years old or younger.
As part of the settlement, Gatorade made no admissions of wrongdoing or liability.
But according to the office of California Attorney General Xavier Baccera, Gatorade's misleading statements about H2O violated state law. "Making misleading statements is a violation of California law. But making misleading statements aimed at our children is beyond unlawful," Baccera said in a statement. "It's morally wrong and a betrayal of trust. Today's settlement should make clear that the California Department of Justice will pursue false advertisers and hold them accountable."
The settlement also summarized the deceptive impressions that the company can no longer advertise. Those are:
(a) water will hinder and/or adversely affect athletic performance;
(b) consuming water in general is to be avoided in favor of consuming Gatorade;
(c) athletes consume Gatorade and avoid all water consumption; and
(d) water consumption in general should be avoided.
Prior to the settlement, Bolt! had apparently been pretty successful. In addition to winning a bronze in "Mobile Advertising" from some awards we've never heard of, it was also downloaded by more than 2.3 million people, and was played over 87 million times. Those numbers came courtesy of a 2013 presentation by the game's designer, marketing company Manning Gottlieb OMD, who also added that they came up with the idea behind the game because:
"Teen athletes often chose to drink water during practice because they thought it provided the proper hydration they needed, so we came up with an entertaining and competitive way to reinforce to teens that consuming Gatorade would help them perform better on the field and that water was the enemy of performance."
For reasons that seem fairly obvious, Bolt! is no longer listed in the iTunes store.