OAKLAND, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – A videogame promoted by Gatorade encouraged users to pass up water in favor of its product, but the company's settlement with a state prosecutor could be a sign that companies should avoid similar marketing.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Sept. 21 that his office settled with Gatorade for $300,000 over allegations of violating consumer protection laws. The attorney general had filed a complaint against the sports drink maker the same day in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
"The AG was concerned that the game communicated a number of broad misleading messages, including that drinking Gatorade would increase athletic performance, while drinking water would decrease that performance," Gonzalo E. Mon, an attorney with Kelley Drye who focuses his practice on marketing and advertising law, told Legal Newsline.
"Although this could be a problem for any audience, the AG was particularly concerned that teens – who made up a majority of the game’s audience – were likely be misled about the relative benefits of the beverages.”
Becerra filed his lawsuit over the videogame Bolt!, which was free on iTunes. He says Gatorade portrayed its products positively while negatively depicting water as hindering athletic performance.
The game features a cartoon version of Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt running an endless race to recover gold coins. Touching a Gatorade icon, caused Bolt to run faster and for the player's "fuel meter" to increase.
If a player touched a water droplet, Bolt slowed and the fuel meter decreased.
Gatorade reinforced this misleading message through the game’s tutorial, which urged users to 'Keep Your Performance Level High By Avoiding Water,'" the Sept. 21 press release stated.
The settlement with Gatorade requires the company to pay $300,000 to the Attorney General’s Office, with $120,000 of that amount to be used to fund research or education on water consumption and the nutrition of children and teens, according to the press release.
Mon thinks there may be more cases like this in the near future.
“To the extent that companies make comparative performance claims, like the ones we saw in this case, I do think we’re likely to see these types of challenges. It’s important to note, though, that a state attorney general office isn’t the only source for these challenges. This could have easily come from the FTC, a competitor, or even consumers,” he said.
California is not the only state where these types of claims occur.
“Federal and state advertising laws generally prohibit companies from making false and misleading statements about their products, so this could have happened in any state,” Mon said.
“For example, a few years ago, the New York attorney general entered into a settlement with Abbott Laboratories over an advertising campaign for its Pediasure SideKicks drinks. The AG determined that the campaign conveyed the misleading impression that children who drink SideKicks are more energetic and perform better in sports than children who don’t drink SideKicks.”