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Consumer Subcultures & Gatorade Product Perceptions

This case study examines the perceptions of Gatorade by athletes and non-athletes. An online survey collected data on brand preferences, consumption patterns, loyalty and emotional bonds. Important findings included high referent power that Gatorade can use in its marketing strategy.


An SIS Analyst set out to examine the brand perceptions about Gatorade, a beverage aimed towards athletes that contains electrolytes and minerals useful before, after, and during physical activity. He hypothesized that there was a difference in Gatorade product perceptions between athletes (those spending more than 10 hours/week in physical activity) and non-athletes, inferring that physical activity and the subcultures associated with those activities had a substantive impact in product perceptions. In context of other competing products, Gatorade would be expected to rank higher than Powerade because it had a longer tradition of being associated with the athletic subculture.



In other words, Athletes would perceive Gatorade to be of higher quality and be able to offer better performance because of athletes' pyschographic and psychological attachments to the drink. Perceptions like these could point to the existence of customer subcultures in the beverage industry that rate products according to their own perceptions of themselves, not on product benefits. Non-athletes, on the other hand, would be less likely to highly rate the performance abilities of Gatorade and would be more likely to try substitutes.


Method and Sample

Administrating an online survey to college students at a prestigious university in the United States with a sample size n=185, he found that athletes were far more likely to have positive perceptions of this product and be more brand loyal to the product off campus.



1. The data supported the overall thesis that high physical activity and positive perceptions were heavily related. First, there was a clear difference between Athletes and non-Athletes’ perceptions on the same product, with Athletes exclusively preferring the product off-campus.

2. This was witnessed by brand preferences, consumption patterns, brand loyalty off-campus, brand strength and buyer ratings. Unlike Non-Athletes, Athletes had emotional bonds with the brand, which accounted for higher ratings and positive attitudes. Indeed all of these data supported the hypothesis that Athlete had stronger perceptions about Gatorade than non-Athletes.

3. This phenomenon of a notable perceptual difference between Athletes and non-Athletes supported the notion that physical activity had an impact on buyer perceptions and consumption patterns. Essentially physical activity refined the consumer’s expectations of satisfaction. When satisfaction was high and when the consumer had experience with the product, consumption increased.

4. Furthermore, social influence strengthened the bond between Athletes and Gatorade by enforcing Gatorade’s referent power and the “consumer tribe” of Athletes. This essentially built strong brand loyalty, limited the evoked set to only a few competing products and allowed the "Halo Effect" to encourage consumers to purchase brand extensions more easily than with Non-Athletes.

5. In the big picture, this referent power means that Gatorade has considerable influence over Athletes. Because there is Referent power, Gatorade can modify its marketing strategy without losing customers because Athletes may voluntarily change behaviors to please or identify with a referent.


This article was provided by SIS International Research. Visit their website at

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SIS International Research

SIS International Research

New York, New York, United States of America
(212) 505-6805
About SIS International Research:
SIS International Research, founded in 1984, is a leading full-service Market Research and Market Intelligence firm.

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