3 real-time marketing lessons to learn from Gatorade’s LeBron James fiasco

Last week during the first game of the NBA Finals, between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, there was a lot going on aside from basketball.

Due to an electrical outage, the air conditioning in AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX, was not functioning. According to the Washington Post, the 90-degree temperatures on the court led to “extreme conditions,” which impacted both spectators and the players.

As a result of the sweltering conditions, in the final minutes of the game, LeBron James, quite arguably the NBA’s biggest star, cramped-up and had to be carried off of the court. If this were a sports blog, we’d go on to talk about how James’ exit from the game led to a loss for the Heat, but instead, let’s discuss the trolling that occurred on social media.

Gatorade, the official sports drink of the NBA, saw an opportunity to engage in conversation with fans around James’ cramps, but unfortunately, it quickly took a turn for the worse.

According to DeadSpin, “James has an endorsement deal with Powerade. But that doesn’t trump Gatorade’s sponsorship with the NBA, for which it pays a reported $18 million a year to be the association’s “official sports drink.” Because of that deal, players on the bench have only two beverage options during games: water and Gatorade.”

So it turns out that James was drinking Gatorade afterall… Oops…

Gatorade has long been praised for its real-time marketing efforts and listening strategy and for good reason. They pioneered the “social media command center” in 2010, long before the “Oreo moment,” and do an exceptional job when it comes to content creation (this one gave me the chills). But the Lebron James incident last week and the brand’s subsequent apology to James and the Miami Heat a day later, is a great opportunity to revisit three staples of smart and effective real-time marketing:

Silence is golden

 At any moment, there could be an opportunity for a brand to interject in a conversation, but there is a fine line between joining a conversation and interrupting a conversation. Sometimes it’s better to stay out of it. After all, not every brand needs to wish us a Happy National Ice Cream Day. (That said, National Ice Cream Day – not to be confused with Ice Cream Sandwich Day – is on Sunday, July 20.)

Know the power of an audience 

Gatorade has 259K+ followers on Twitter, while the Miami Heat and LeBron James have a combined following of 15.67 million followers. Going up against James and his millions of fans was probably not the best way to make new friends, but then again, the Spurs fans, including a local newscaster, loved it.


Real-time marketing is not a strategy

 Two-way conversation on social and capitalizing on news moments is important, but it is not the be-all-end-all of social marketing strategies. There’s a time and a place for it, but remember the big picture and goals of your brand, the metrics of success, and the business results you want to drive via social. Like mom always said, just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn’t mean you do too.

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