When Lebron James entered the NBA he did it with a 13 million dollar contract from the Cavs and a 93 million dollar contract from Nike. Obviously Nike, with no rules on how much they could pay him, believed that his once in a lifetime talent combined with his charisma would leave them with a marketing monster. Fast forward 7 years and Lebron, for lack of a better term, made a big whoopsies.
Nike was not new to marketing for a fallen athlete and has in their past created many redemptive advertisements that attempted to restore an image. In the following four commercials, Nike stuck to a theme of individuality while adding a personal twist for each athlete.
Charles Barkley: "I'm Not a Role Model" Ad
This was the original villain ad. Charles didn't really make a big mistake. He was only guilty of being Charles Barkley and saying loud outlandish things that people tended to wag their fingers at. This reputation for not caring about what he said led to criticisms that he was a poor role model. Nike capitalized on this and made a commercial where Charles bluntly stated that he was in fact not a role model. Nike emphasized that Charles was a cavalier and individual, whose job was to play basketball, and that Charles was very good at his job. The ad was simple, strong, and effective.
Kobe Bryant "Hate Me" Ad
Living in Southern California makes it really easy to dislike Kobe Bryant. If I run away to another country and lose contact with everyone it's probably because a Laker fan drove me insane. In 2003 when Kobe was accused of rape he had a lot more hatred to deal with. The case was settled, but an already embattled Bryant needed to make a mark for Nike and himself. In his commercial, Nike emphasized Kobe's legendary work ethic and his obvious success as a basketball player. Kobe speaks directly to his "haters" and leaves them having acknowledged that its his success that breeds the hatred.
Tiger Woods "Earl and Tiger" Ad
Unless you are an alien or an infant you probably heard that Tiger Woods had a tough go at it recently. Nike, who had hung their hat on his consistent marketability, needed to push forward in order to restore his brand. Where the previous two commercials highlighted the athlete's workmanlike attitudes and successes, Nike painted a picture of Tiger as a man, not a golfer, who needed to reflect. They didn't make the past go away but instead showed Tiger attempting to harness what he had done so that he could become a better person. The ad received its fair share of criticism, especially for using the voice of Tiger's deceased father, but it garnered at ton of attention and paved the road back for Tiger's public perception.
Lebron James "What Should I Do" Ad
I am one of approximately six Lebron James supporters outside of the city of Miami. When Nike took this ad public I was amped. It's a very well made commercial and it addressed many of the issues people had with him. Looking back on it now, I realize that Nike missed big time, and the ad fed the fire of the people that turned on Lebron. Instead of sticking with a theme of showing Lebron as a basketball player, he became a caricature of a tragic hero. Lebron asked us a rhetorical question that we had answers to. We knew that the way he did what he did was wrong, and by asking us what he should do facetiously he was putting down our intelligence. Like the Charles and Kobe ads, in his ad Lebron should have been playing basketball and not feeling sorry for himself. Nike sure got a lot of attention, but the commercial became the cherry on top of the poop sundae that Lebron James made that summer.