In the space of just a few years, the Los Angeles Lakers lost both a visionary leader of more than 30 years, and its marquee player of 20 years. With the death of long-time owner Dr. Jerry Buss and retirement of Kobe Bryant, the team was without two of its most consistent leaders on the court and off. Now, a franchise that made its name on flashy, Hollywood-style winning is rebuilding on the court with a young, if currently basement-dwelling, team, and off court with a new brand campaign that shines a spotlight on the fans.
If you can’t sell the team, sell the dream, right? Team president Jeanie Buss says for this new campaign, the brief for agency Ignition Creative was to tap into its long-standing bond with fans to build excitement around the new crop of young players now wearing the purple and yellow.
“The Lakers are such a beloved brand in our market, and really across the country and around the world–we’re the most followed team in the NBA on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms,” says Buss. “We talked to Ignition about their ideas of connecting with our fans, express our excitement around this young team, but still keep what’s made them love the Lakers, to bring generations of Lakers fans together. The goal was really to let our fans know who this new, young team is and just how special this group of guys is as they launch their careers, and begin to make their mark on the NBA.”
In sports, winning has always been the best, most reliable marketing strategy around. But when you’re in rebuild mode, sitting near the bottom of the standings, it’s a much tougher proposition, particularly for a fan base that’s accustomed to success. The Lakers have five NBA titles in this century alone (2010, 2009, 2002, 2001, 2000).
“You can never discount winning,” says Buss. “That is our brand and it is the ultimate goal, but certainly I think it’s about giving this team their opportunity to come together and form their identity. The fans are such an important factor in motivating them, inspiring them, so the more our fans are engaged with our players like D’angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr., the more they know, the more connected they are, the more the players feed off of that. All the pieces fit together when you’re building a team.”
But you can’t sell BS to a knowledgeable fan base, and Buss knows that Lakers fans know this is a transitional time for the team on the court, so there was no point trying to use winning in the new campaign. “I’ve always said that our fans are our most important asset,” she says. “They’re a savvy group of fans. You can’t force feed them a message that’s not authentic–they’re too smart for that. That’s what I love about this campaign–it’s real and about connecting the fans with our players.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the brand, particularly in light of the loss of Dr. Buss and departure of Bryant, was maintaining a connection with the team’s championship past without leaning too heavily on that legacy. There’s a difference between honoring the past and milking it.
“We were faced with a tougher challenge to always remember who we are,” says Buss. “We’re bigger than any one player or any one owner–the consistency is that fan base. You can’t just live in the past, peddling the ’80s Showtime Lakers, and expect everyone to know what that is. We have many fans who weren’t even alive in the ’80s. One thing Dr. Buss asked me to do was to make sure the team continues to evolve and to put a new light on the team, and we’ve certainly tried to embrace that vision of his, evolving the brand while paying tribute to the past. That’s what Laker fans expect and what we try to deliver.”