Gatorade's mobile advergame "Bolt!" violated California's false advertising law by making the false claim that water could harm athletic performance, according to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
California law, which prohibits misleading statements in ads, applies "regardless of the medium in which the statements are made," Becerra alleges in a complaint unveiled last week. "Brand integration in mobile gaming is ... no exception to the rule," the complaint states.
PepsiCo's Gatorade agreed to pay $300,000 to settle the allegations. The company also promised to refrain from "making statements that disparage water or the consumption of water" in the future.
The advergame, first released via iTunes in 2012, featured a cartoon version of Jamaican sprinter and Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. "Throughout the race, water was inaccurately and negatively depicted as hindering the sprinter's performance," the Attorney General alleged.
"This marketing message was further made clear through the game's tutorial, which instructed its largely teen and young adult audience to 'Keep Your Performance Level High By Avoiding Water.'"
The game garnered notoriety after it was flagged in a blog post by food activist Nancy Huehnergarth. "If you thought Big Soda’s decades-long “War on Water” -- part of their strategy to increase sales of soda and other bottled drinks -- couldn’t get any worse, you were wrong," she wrote.
The game, which is no longer available, was downloaded more than 2.3 million times -- mainly by users between the ages of 13 and 24, according to the complaint. Gatorade allegedly marketed the game on Twitter and Facebook. The beverage company also allegedly arranged for athletes and celebrities to hawk the game on social media.