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January 13, 2009

G Is for Gelf

In case you missed it, Lil Wayne and Jackie Robinson made like hangovers and resolutions, joining forces to help ring in the New Year. The unlikely duo were featured in an irreverent and enigmatic ad campaign that showcased professional athletes accompanied by Lil Wayne asking, "What's G?"

As it turns out, "G" is the new marketing campaign for re-branded Gatorade (which now features edicts on its labels commanding the thirsty to "shine on" and "bring it"). But unlike most commercials, "What's G?" doesn't say what's being marketed, leaving many viewers Guessing.

Gelf contacted Gatorade and was told, "Our strategy is to create intrigue with this campaign by not branding it. We'd like consumers to be inspired by what G means in our campaign and discover what G means for them, before it's connected to a brand."

So what does G mean for them? Judging by 10 full days of comments on Newsday's Pet Rock: The Pop Culture Blog, G is Getting attention. G is also Ghetto, Gangbanging, and the G-Spot. The campaign has also stirred up other non G-word topics, like the "Dunkadelic-Era" and racism.

And does it take Gall and Gumption to feature Jackie Robinson, who died in 1972, just seven years after Gatorade's introduction to sports? Why is Gatorade using a deceased sports icon and civil-rights hero to peddle sugar water? Is it for Glory? Greed? While CMG, the company that represents Jackie Robinson's image, declined to comment, the images apparently have been officially licensed.

Lee Lowenfish, a biographer of Branch Rickey and a Jackie Robinson scholar, tells Gelf, "Robinson endorsed many, many products in his lifetime … I have no doubt that if the chance to endorse Gatorade appeared in the 1950s, he would have done so, and there is nothing wrong with that."

But Robinson might not have appreciated Lil Wayne's voiceover referencing "a lower-case god" as Robinson appears in the ad. "Like his mentor Branch Rickey, Robinson was a God-fearing muscular Protestant who felt God helps those who help themselves and there is only one God—though both Rickey and Robinson had considerable human egos that rubbed many people the wrong way," Lowenfish says.

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