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What happens when the world’s best athletes lose? Before they won Super Bowls, both Eli and Peyton Manning had to learn what it meant to fail. In its The Secret of Victory podcast series, Gatorade features in-depth conversations about defeat with superstar athletes. Rather than promoting the brand directly, it taps into the growing power of the podcast as a branding tool and focuses on storytelling over selling. We explore the insights behind the campaign, and explain why low-key branding can make all the difference.

The Secret of Victory is a branded podcast from Gatorade and Gimlet Creative. The six-episode series features athletes including Serena Williams and Matt Ryan talking about the lowest points in their careers and how those experiences helped them achieve success – an approach that turns the typically triumph-led sports story on its head. The focus of each episode is on in-depth conversations that bring these stories to life. “It’s not just about logos and brand mentions,” says Kenny Mitchell, Gatorade’s head of consumer engagement. “It’s about telling authentic stories that connect well to what our brand is all about.”

The focus is on storytelling over selling
Gatorade | YouTube (2017) ©

Over 57 million Americans listened to at least one podcast a month in 2016, up 23% from 2015, and the format is increasingly influential; one NPR study found that three-quarters of listeners had taken action on a sponsored message. Consequently, they’ve become a lucrative avenue for brands looking to tap new audiences on a more human level. GE’s The Message podcast, which embedded elements of the firm’s work in the narrative, racked up over one million listeners, becoming the most successful branded podcast to date.

According to Nazanin Rafsanjani, Gimlet’s creative director, the key to branded success is to embrace the intimacy and all-consuming nature of the podcast format. “The Secret of Victory is brought to you by Gatorade, but beyond that, there’s no real brand presence,” she says, “and no one would listen to it if there was. No one will listen to it if it sounds like an ad.” With 16% of people distrusting branded content, it's no wonder that Gatorade is playing down its brand association while emphasising powerful storytelling.


Alex Rückheim is a behavioural analyst at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research, and who has worked on behaviour change projects with global clients including Samsung, the UK Government, Red Bull, AKQA and OMD. With a background in Strategic Marketing, he is also special lecturer at the University of the Arts London, and curator of design-focused site GOODS


24 Jul 17
2 min read

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