This is my first time on the Business Blog Book Tour. This is tour #10 and this time around the featured book is First In Thirst: How Gatorade Turned The Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon by Darren Rovell.
Darren Rovell likes Gatorade a lot. A lot. He wrote a whole book about the stuff. Rovell’s book is called First In Thirst and it’s basically a biography of Gatorade. You’d think there wouldn’t be a whole lot you can say about a sports drink, but Rovell manages to dig up sufficient history to provide a really thorough coverage. And though the book is broad enough to span the entire history of Gatorade, he provides enough fun details to keep it a lively read. You learn about the first nasty tasting concoction, the history of the first Gatorade baths, lots of background information on Gatorade’s memorable marketing campaigns (remember Be Like Mike?). Rovell obviously did a lot of listening to present and past Gatorade executives, and covers much of the backroom decision making that went on behind the scenes. It’s fun reading, but it’s not entirely Gatorade worship. Rovell gives decent coverage to some of the misteps the company made, as well as some of the more contentious rivalries. Last, back at the office, you can apply The Gatorade Rules, which are more fully covered in the book.
I’ve got to say, when I was asked whether I’d like to participate in this Tour, I had to hesitate because I’m not really a “sports guy” and this seemed like it would be a sports guy kind of book. But I figured that I drink Gatorade now and then, and what the heck, it might be a good read. Turns out it really was a good read! Once I started into it, I really enjoyed it. This could’ve been a pretty dry textbook sort of read, but Rovell does a good job of injecting some life into it. The book really does revolve around the Gatorade brand, though there are a few characters that pop up regularly throughout the book. Overall, a good read, and one that I’ve already recommended to friends.
For the Business Book Blog Tour, I had an opportunity to ask Darren a few questions. What follows is our brief dialog…
So, before we get into the really deep stuff (yeah, right), I’ve got to ask, what’s your favorite flavor?
DR: My favorite flavor is Chironja (grapefruit/orange hybrid), but they only make it in Puerto Rico for some reason. So my favorite flavor that I can get on an everyday basis is Mango Electrico. It’s part of the Xtremo line, which was brought over from Mexico a couple years ago and has been very successful in the U.S.
My guess is that the book has a lot of appeal across market segments. There’s stuff in there that product or brand managers can take away, but it’s also an engaging read for sports fans. Who was the reader you had in mind when writing? What surprises, if any, have you had in terms of readership demographic (grandmas really dig it, etc)?
DR: I wrote this for a wide range of people. The challenge here was to give enough to the business crowd and enough to the sports crowd without alienating other potential consumers. I have received e-mails from two middle-aged women in different parts of the country that told me that they were not business types and they weren’t interested in sports, picked it up because they were curious and enjoyed it. So that was a nice thing to hear because I knew the challenges going in of creating a text where that worked.
One of the more touted parts of the book are “The Gatorade Rules.” How intentional are those rules–were they dreamed up and then executed, or did they rise up out of a recognition of what works?
DR: There might be debate over whether the chicken or the egg came first, but I think any business manager who tells you that they make the rules so that they can experience success is not telling the truth. Success is based on loosely adhering to the rules over time, but it’s not like the rules are posted all over Gatorade’s headquarters. One thing that I did want to do is to make sure not to hold the brand in too high regard because if I did that I would not be telling the whole story. That’s why when readers read the rules, they’ll notice that every once in a while I’ll talk about how the brand’s executives got off track. Too many business book writers want to make their readers believe that things happened perfectly and that’s just not the case.
You talk a bit about competitors in the book, and Gatorade’s overwhelming market share. Do you see any giant killers poised to cut down Gatorade, or will Gatorade be the top of the heap for the forseeable future?
DR: I don’t think Gatorade will lose its stronghold on the sports drink market. But Gatorade is clearly competing against every other drink out there. The reality is that more people are drinking Gatorade on sedentary occasions than during sporting occasions and that means that to grow Gatorade is competing with bottled water, Vitaminwater and energy drinks. The pie is not the sports drink market. The pie is the thirst market. Although Gatorade execs will never advertise that because they want the aspirational qualities of athletics associated with their beverage, they know that they are competing against the soft drinks of the world. Sure enough, in schools across the country, thanks to new legislation that seeks to reduce the amount of sugar intake by America’s children, Gatorade is replacing Coke and Pepsi.