This past summer and during the NBA off-season, the biggest headline revolved around Lebron James and which team he would choose to play for during the 2014 season. As teams jockeyed for position and made offers to land the coveted star, one of his biggest endorsement partners, Nike, prepared for a global campaign around Lebron and the release of his new shoes, the Lebron XII.
After endless hopes, rumors, speculation, and debate, Lebron decided to return to his home state and once again play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In an open letter to the basketball community, James expressed how the deep sentiments he felt for his hometown shaped his decision for his return to Cleveland. He wanted to give something back to the city that raised him, and what better than for him to use his talents to bring Cleveland an NBA championship and the economic boom that would come from such a feat.
With so much buzz around Lebron and his decision, Nike faced the challenge of figuring out how they would maximize sales from their Fall product launch. With Lebron being arguably the greatest basketball player on the planet, Nike, with ad Agency Wieden+Kennedy, could have gone in a number of directions to promote James’ newest shoe. They could have gone pyrotechnic with such a huge release – presenting Lebron and all his fanfare in vivid technicolor.
But the advertisement they decided to create shocked basketball fans not with its pageantry but with its poignancy. Wieden+Kennedy understood that Lebron was becoming basketball’s version of Robin Hood, and the city of Cleveland as well as basketball fans around the world were gravitating toward Lebron not only because of his talent but also because of his values. In a risky move, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy created an ad that focused less on shoes and more on the hope that Lebron shared with his hometown fans.
The final product was emotionally-charged 2 minute commercial that would debut and coincide with the Cavs’ season opener. The ad that celebrated optimism, legacy, and the power of human connection in the face of adversity created tremendous national buzz – performing better than James did in the first game of his homecoming. Though James was less than satisfied with his performance on the court that night, his brand had much to celebrate. He, Nike, and Wieden+Kennedy had successfully integrated his audience’s trust, desires, and passions with his product, his brand’s emotional promise, and the inspiration story that included both himself and his fans. That type of synergy and alignment is every brands dream. And though many brands might consider Lebron and Nike lucky, this is testament to the power of a truly integrated and elevated approach. It can be done again, but only with this level of consumer analysis, product viability, and clear message translation.
Lebron understands that its not only about the shoes and other brands would do well to follow suit.