Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Love The Game No Matter What– The Jumpman Brand
Love the Game No Matter What – The Jumpman Brand
At the Time that Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984, virtually all basketball sneakers were white and no one had their own signature shoes. Jordan himself wanted to sign with Converse or Adidas, although those companies already had big names like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and were unwilling to give a better deal than Nike.
Nike at the time was struggling as its running shoe sales were dying off. It decided to do something that no other company was willing to do by betting virtually its entire marketing budget on one player – and a rookie to boot.
When the first Air Jordans launched in 1985, they raised some eyebrows. In fact, they were so flashy by the standards of the time, that commissioner David Stern banned the shoes and instituted a $5,000 per game ban. Just as it had seen opportunity in Jordan, Nike saw opportunity in this ban. Jordan wore the shoes anyways and Nike footed the bill for each game. In return, it got to advertise the shoes as being so good, they weren’t even legal and sales of the original Air Jordans exploded.
The original branding of the Air Jordans and courage to bet the farm by giving a rookie his own shoe deal characterizes Nike’s innovative approach through the years. Shortly after Jordan returned from retirement the first time, Nike helped put together the Space Jam movie, which in its own right catapulted the launch of the Air Jordan 11’s. Mainly due to Jordan’s transcendent talent but also due to Nike’s brilliant marketing techniques, Air Jordans have long had a mystique and prestige as the best basketball shoes out there personified by the Jordan slogan “It Must be the Shoes”.
In the current environment with the NBA lockout, the notion of basketball advertising seems like a dubious one. After experiencing its most successful season ever last year, fans everywhere are frustrated and distraught with the prospect of not having an NBA season this year. At a time when everything seems to be about money, it is easy to lose sight of how the game is loved by millions around the world across numerous demographics and social groups.
This backdrop saw the NBA players attempt to replicate a tactic used by the NFL players during their lockout: They started a twitter campaign called “Let Us Play” and tried to shift the blame for the lockout onto the team owners and league. However, the plan backfired and many people pointed out that the NBA players were also part of the problem and the plan failed to generate the kind of popular support that the NFL players achieved.
Nike took a different approach to addressing the NBA lockout. Just to point out, Nike is not nearly as invested in the NBA lockout as the players or team owners are. However, it took the initiative to use the situation as a way of leveraging its brand history in way that competitors like Adidas and Reebok have been unwilling to try. Specifically, it launched an ad campaign called “Love the Game…No Matter What”.
In the ad, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwayne Wade, all who are signed onto the Jordan brand, are shown playing in amateur games in their local communities. There is a definite element of humor, as some of the leagues they are shown playing in are along the lines of the “Jewish Under 40 League”, pickup games with out of shape athletes, and even a women’s league. At the end, all three come together in China and play a pickup game in an outdoor park.
The point of the ad is to say that despite the contentious lockout situation, NBA stars still play because they love the game and that the Jordan brand will be there to facilitate its sponsored players to pursue that passion. At a time when so much fan emotion is swirling around the NBA lockout, this campaign is so brilliant that it begs the question of why other companies have not tried something similar. Rather than address the problems of the NBA lockout directly in anyone’s favor, the Jordan brand effectively took the high road and minimized the perceived pettiness of both sides by reminding people that the company stands behind the love of the game and nothing else.
This ad campaign speaks strongly to the fact that consumers in the market for basketball shoes identify with much more than the product attributes and consider what the brand name of the shoes conveys about themselves. In this way, the brand acts as an extension of themselves, making the purchase decision much more personal and subjective. Ultimately, people do not buy Jordan shoes – which often cost upwards of $100 - because they are inherently better than other shoes in terms of facilitating basketball performance. They buy the shoes because they want to identify with the greatest player of all time; someone who loved the game so much that he had a “Love of the Game” clause built into his contract that would let him play unrestricted offseason basketball at the team’s risk. The Jordan brand has always stood for the joy of basketball and celebrating greatness. In the case of the NBA lockout, it displayed a timely and insightful response to an otherwise negative situation and succeeded in reminding people that basketball – and Nike – never stops.
About the author: Luke Liu is a student at Northwestern University and serial entrepreneur who has been a loyal Jordan consumer for half a decade. He is an integrated marketing student in additional to majoring in economics and has advised companies on their marketing and digital media strategies.