We've learned a lot about Usain Bolt through advertising—that he broke the 100-meter world record in 9.58 seconds, hails from Jamaica, a former colony of England (at whose capital he's appeared, avenging his ancestors, as the Grim Reaper) ... and loves McNuggets.
But in a fresh piece in its "For the Love of Sports" campaign, Gatorade digs deeper still.
"The Boy Who Learned to Fly" is an origin story for the one man who can probably give you whiplash just by sauntering past you.
The animated short is brought to you by TBWA\Chiat\Day and Moonbot Studios, whose brand work also includes Chipotle's "The Scarecrow." The film begins with Bolt walking into an arena, where the voice of his mother reaches him—and flings us backward in time.
Every hero has a point of departure. His happens on a nondescript schoolday in Jamaica, where a tiny Bolt grasshops out his front door and races to school.
"You forgot your lunch!" his mom cries—a foreshadowing if we ever saw one!
Bolt's cheerful dash disrupts everyone on his route. (He even has time to score a soccer goal, intercepting a much slower player.) His exertions ensure he makes it on time for the bell, but by noon, he reaches into his backpack and quickly realizes what he's missing.
On the playground, an adult with a copious carry-out lunch offers Bolt his spoils if he can beat a big kid in formidable track gear to a tree. And when he does—against all odds!—that same man gives him the motivation he needs to take a career in running seriously.
Which brings us to the 2002 World Junior Championships. This cute tale of triumph would have been more than enough precursor to seeing a grownup Bolt breaking ribbons, but we get one more layer before we go.
A great hero isn't just defined by what he or she can do, but by what crippling weaknesses they overcome again and again. Bolt was 15 when he competed in the World Junior Championships, but it's here that we learn what ails him: He's beaten down by the pressure of disappointing his country and the people who are constantly pushing him to win.
It's his mother who brings him back to earth. As she puts his mismatched running shoes on the right feet, she reminds him, "You can always go faster when you keep it light."
Bolt would go on to become the youngest winner of that tourney, with a gold medal in the 200-meter race, bringing us to the present day. He's filled out, goateed-up and lighthearted as he dusts the starting block (and the competition). He races onward into the clouds, with bolts of lightning tracing his steps.
"Will Usain Bolt strike yet again?" a mighty voiceover asks.
It's work that's big on legend, and light on logos. Indeed, apart from a Gatorade bottle near the end, and the lightning-laced G that closes the film, the brand stays out of it entirely.
The spirit is in keeping with the overall campaign, which explores the impact sports can have on a young person's destiny through nostalgic stories of athletes. In a spot that came out last month, Bolt appeared with Serena Williams, Paul George and April Ross, training alongside their biggest motivators—their younger selves.
But while that approach is more likely to appeal to adults, this one is clearly meant to grab kids' attention, too.
It's an introduction to a new hero, one they can follow in real life and at the upcoming Rio Olympics (where the pressure he's imposed on himself looks pretty familiar).
Maybe that halo will spread to everything else swimming in his aura, including Gatorade (and, perhaps thankfully if you're a parent, excluding Durex).