Thanks to New York State's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Gatorade and parent company PepsiCo have paid the price for their fraudulent claim that water is the enemy of athletic performance.
In January, The Huffington Post ran my blog about Gatorade's Bolt! mobile game, which instructs young players to "Keep Your Performance Level High by Avoiding Water," and has them maneuver Olympian Usain Bolt's character through a course, gathering Gatorade to make him go faster and avoiding water that slows him down.
Soon after my article was posted, virtually all information about the Gatorade Bolt! Game app disappeared from the Internet.
I sent a letter of complaint about the game's deceptive messaging to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office in the hopes that he would take action against the misleading campaign.
Fortunately, he did. In August, Schneiderman's office entered into a letter agreement with Gatorade "with respect to Gatorade's marketing and promotion of its Gatorade Bolt! App." I requested a copy of the letter agreement, which reads:
The Attorney General believes that the Bolt! App, which was promoted in social media outlets by professional athletes, including the Olympic athlete Usain Bolt, was misleading in a number of ways, particularly to children and adolescents. The Attorney General believes that the marketing of the App and the App itself created the misleading impression that (a) drinking water will hinder and/or adversely affect athletic performance; (b) drinking water is to be avoided in favor of drinking Gatorade; (c) athletes drink Gatorade and avoid water consumption; and (d) water consumption in general should be avoided.
To resolve the matter, without admitting or denying any of the allegations, PepsiCo and Gatorade agreed to no longer make the Bolt! App, or any other app or electronic game criticizing water available for download. Gatorade also agreed to no longer disparage water or the consumption of water.
Gatorade's comeuppance also included paying $100,000 to the Partnership for a Healthier America's Drink Up! initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to encourage kids to drink more water. The funds have been specifically designated to promote consumption of non-branded water in New York State.
When asked about the letter agreement, and the impact it would have on consumer health, Matt Mittenthal, spokesman for Attorney General Schneiderman, responded via email: "Consumers in New York and across the country deserve to be protected from false advertising, especially when it could lead to detrimental effects on the health of children and adolescents. No company has the right to mislead the public about the health benefits of their products or the harms of any other."
While $100,000 is pocket change for huge corporations like Gatorade and PepsiCo, the terms of the letter agreement appear to put the kibosh on Gatorade's outrageous vilification of water. This win should inspire others to file complaints with their State Attorney General, and other watchdog agencies, when the beverage industry's deceptive marketing threatens the health of our children.
A version of this post originally appeared on Civil Eats