Q&A with Global Director of Sports Marketing for Gatorade Jeff Kearney

Global Director of Sports Marketing Jeff Kearney currently oversees the strategy, inclusive global partnership identification, acquisition and execution at Gatorade.

Kearney joined the Gatorade team in 2004 as Sports and Professional Marketing Manager, and has since then been promoted three times to Senior Manager of Brand Marketing and Director of Brand Marketing before acquiring his current position.

He has played a major role in the Gatorade Prime Sports Fuel Drink and Gatorade Recover Post game Recovery Beverage, now constructing short and long term visions for the Gatorade partnership portfolio with focus on global football, endurance and action platforms.

Prior to his professional career, Kearney earned his undergraduate degree in Communications from the University of Iowa and his Master of Science in Sport Management from Western Illinois University.

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MSBC: When Manager and Director of Brand Marketing, what role did you play in the growth of Gatorade’s brand health and equity?

Kearney: I consider myself a sports marketer or sports practitioner by trade. I’ve worked under the sports umbrella my entire career, be it in the college ranks or an NFL squad or whatever it may be. My role, when I shifted over to the brand side, was to ensure that we kept one foot in the locker room and really stay true to the athlete. We’re a brand that was built on knowing and fulfilling athlete needs. And one of the most important things we can do for our brand equity is to ensure we’re staying true to our audience. It goes back to the cliché: You have to build your brand before you build your business.

MSBC: Similar to ROI, brand equity is something that lacks a universal scale or measurement formula. How has Gatorade been able to analyze it over the years?

Kearney: Insights for us are critical to everything we do. We do regular monitoring of the attitudes and practices of our target consumer to gauge that brand health. How the needle moves year to year across these key measures is the best indicator for us of our long-term performance and helps ensure we are staying very connected to our core target. Just a couple examples of things that we really look at are … do they consider it a brand for them? That “for-me” relevance for us is huge. Is the formula based on science? Does Gatorade fuel me, hydrate me better than water? Key metrics like that are mission-critical to what we do and what we stand for.

MSBC: Will you describe Gatorade’s brand heritage and target market?

Kearney: This is one of my favorite stories when different people ask me about the product whether I’m with friends or with some of our other markets. It’s eye opening for them to realize that this isn’t some product where we’re sitting here in an ivory tower, saying, “Hey, let’s launch a blue one.” Gatorade was born on the field of play, on the sidelines with a simple mission to help athletes put on their best performance. Way back in 1965, finding a hydration solution for University of Florida football players led to the invention of an entire category — the sports drink category — and the 40+ year history of studying the best athletes in the world. We, for years, have trumpeted that we’re the most researched beverage on the planet. … We take great pride in that.

MSBC: How has the recent product innovation played a role in the evolution of the brand?

Kearney: It’s huge. It’s been central to the Gatorade brand since it’s was invented. It’s a part of studying athlete needs for 40-50 years and we’re in a very unique position to provide them with the best and most scientifically based innovations. This can be everything from looking at their habits to their need states. If athletes are coming to us and telling us they’re sore after competition, we’ll find a way to make them feel better. If we’re watching athletes’ habits, … we’ll have the opportunity to sit and watch what they do before, during and after activity. If they’re in the locker room hitting the vending machine and they’re eating snacks, after completion we’ll say, “Well, why did you do that?” They like the portability. They like the sustenance. They like the flavor. We’ll try to tap into those athletes’ habits and try to find something that we can prove has scientific efficacy behind it, help them perform at their best. We’ll consider what size would be best. Is the packaging easy to open? Is it something they can store in their locker that tastes great at ambient temperatures? [We’ll] try to put our Gatorade spin on it, so when an athlete consumes it they know they can trust it will fuel them better than anything else available.

MSBC: Will you give an overview of your current responsibilities?

Kearney: For me, I’m in a really exciting position at Gatorade because as the world leader in sport fuel, we’re everywhere. We have terrific global horsepower and distribution as a brand, but we’ve only scratched the surface with the opportunities that exist to reach athletes of all shapes and sizes. My role is to really ensure we have a consistent look and feel and brand equity everywhere. Like I said, you have to build your brand before your build your business. We need to make sure the person that’s my counterpart in France or Argentina or Thailand feels the same way and has the same understanding about the brand that we do here in the U.S. We strive to find authentic ways to integrate our products into the places that athletes need them the most and that might vary a little bit from market to market. The health club scene might be much more intense in one market than it is in the U.S. A better comparison might be a sideline solution that we create for the National Football League or for college football at Michigan might look and feel completely different from how we solve it for the sidelines for a global football team in Brazil They have completely different athletes, shapes and sizes. They’re different games, where in [American] football, there’s a pause between each play. There are timeouts. In global football, you have two 45-minute halves and the clock never stops. So how do we make sure that we’re creating the right solutions to get the product to those players when they need it the most? What can we do at halftime? All those different facets make sure at the end of the day we’re true to the athletes and their needs.

MSBC: Can you describe the culture of your workplace?

Kearney: We’re very competitive. No one knows the mindset of an athlete better than athletes themselves, so it’s no coincidence that you have a lot of former athletes and serious fitness athletes who work on our brand. In fact we have former NFL players, former NBA players, many, many, many former college athletes and endurance athletes. Every single weekend there’s a major event and someone is missing from our office because they’re off competing in ironmans, triathlons, the Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon, the World Marathon Majors or weekend warrior events. This is one of those places where when you go to work, and we have a health club here, and when you’re on the treadmill, people are peaking at the treadmill next to them to see how fast that person is going because they want to go faster. … We have a program here called Go For Your Goal, where at the beginning of every calendar year you have to commit to doing some type of athletic achievement. It may be someone trying their first triathlon. It may be running a sub three-hour marathon. … It can be things like coaching sports because that gets you closer to the future of our brand and what the athletic need states are for these younger players that are growing and developing. I coached little league this year. I also coached youth basketball in the spring. I work with my daughter’s basketball team — she’s six — talk about a challenge.



For media inquiries, please contact Brand Manager Liz Nagle
liz.nagle@umsbc.com
(248) 636-3661

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