SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the concurrent filing of a complaint and a settlement involving allegations that The Gatorade Company violated California consumer protection laws by making misleading statements about water in a mobile videogame application it used to promote Gatorade sports drinks to teens and young adults.
The complaint filed by the Attorney General alleges that in the videogame “Bolt!”—made available free of charge on iTunes—Gatorade portrayed its products positively while inaccurately and negatively depicting water as hindering athletic performance. Specifically, users controlled a cartoon version of Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt and ran an endless race to recover gold coins stolen by pirates. Upon touching a Gatorade icon, the Bolt avatar ran faster and the “fuel meter” increased; upon touching a water droplet, he slowed down 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.”
“Making misleading statements is a violation of California law. But making misleading statements aimed at our children is beyond unlawful, it's morally wrong and a betrayal of trust. It's what causes consumers to lose faith in the products they buy,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Today's settlement should make clear that the California Department of Justice will pursue false advertisers and hold them accountable.”
The complaint further alleges that Gatorade promoted “Bolt!” on social media, drawing in a youthful audience of which more than 70 percent was aged 13 to 24. The app amassed more than 2.3 million downloads and 87 million games played worldwide in 2012 and 2013. The app was also made available on iTunes for a period of time in 2017. “Bolt!” was downloaded an estimated 30,000 times in California. It is no longer available for download.
As part of the settlement, Gatorade will be required to pay $300,000, of which $120,000 will be used to fund research or education on water consumption and the nutrition of children and teenagers. In addition, the settlement requires Gatorade to disclose endorser relationships in any social media posts and prohibits the company from advertising its products in media where children under age 12 comprise more than 35 percent of the audience. The settlement also prohibits the company from negatively depicting water in any form of advertisement.
So-called “advergames”—downloadable or internet-based video games that advertise a brand-name product by featuring it as part of the game—influence the behavior of consumers and especially children, who are the common targets of such games. Studies have shown that advergames can significantly impact a child's desire for either healthy or unhealthy foods.
Sports drinks often have a high sugar content. For example, one 32-ounce bottle of a sports drink could have as much as 56 grams of sugar, which is more than double the 25 grams of added sugar that any child or teenager aged 2 to 18 should consume in an entire day, according to the American Heart Association. Despite this, consumers commonly misperceive sports drinks to be beneficial for children in connection with any amount of sports activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics has made clear that children “rarely need sports drinks” and that “water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration for children and adolescents.”
For additional resources regarding child and teenage nutrition, please see the following online resources:
- The Clinical Nutrition Program at Stanford Children's Health, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital (http://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/service/nutrition-services)
- The Center for Nutrition in Schools, UC Davis (http://cns.ucdavis.edu/)
- The United States Department of Agriculture's “ChooseMyPlate.Gov” (https://www.choosemyplate.gov/)
A copy of the complaint and the stipulated judgment containing the terms of the settlement are attached to the electronic version of this release at oag.ca.gov/news.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra / Thursday, September 21, 2017