WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A health group is asking the U.S. government to yank a Gatorade ad that it says deceptively implies that basketball great Michael Jordan prevailed over the flu during a memorable 1997 game because he fueled with Gatorade.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute, a legal research center at the Northeastern University School of Law, said it was targeting the ad by Gatorade owner PepsiCo Inc because it encourages teens to engage in dangerous behavior.
“The Jordan Ad openly promotes engaging in vigorous physical activity while suffering from a very high fever, in Jordan’s case 103 degrees,” the institute said in a letter dated May 8 to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
“It is a generally recognized safety principle that teens and even professional athletes suffering from a severe fever and flu-like symptoms should not engage in vigorous physical activity.”
PepsiCo said it was aware of the letter but had no immediate comment. The FTC confirmed receipt of the letter, but said it had made no decision on whether to look into the matter.
Gatorade’s “Win From Within” commercial features footage from game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when Michael Jordan scored 38 points while visibly ill and suffering from a fever.
It also includes a recent interview with former Chicago Bulls Coach Phil Jackson.
According to Gatorade’s description of the 30-second commercial on its website, “We see Jordan constantly hydrating with Gatorade and returning to the court as we hear Coach Jackson reveal how Jordan was able to persist - he had the will to win and the fuel to help him do it.”
PHAI in its letter said the ad sequences the footage to falsely enhance the role of Gatorade during the so-called “Flu Game.”
The beginning of the ad shows an ill Jordan, slumped over and clutching a cup of orange-colored liquid in a Gatorade cup. He drinks from a Gatorade cup four more times as play progresses, although the drink itself isn’t visible.
The archival footage that the group found never showed Jordan drinking orange-colored Gatorade but only water or other clear liquids.
The group further says that the shot of Jordan slumped over on the bench was near the end of the game after Jordan was done playing, rather than earlier in play as the ad implies.
PHAI is asking the FTC to investigate whether the color of the liquid in the cup featured at the beginning of the commercial was enhanced or altered.
It also said PepsiCo should be ordered to undertake corrective advertising consistent with government recommendation that people with the flu should stay home and not engage in vigorous physical activity.
“There is already enormous pressure on teen athletes to win at all costs by practicing during extreme heat and playing through injuries,” the group said.
Reporting By Diane Bartz; editing by M.D. Golan