This weekend, the Golden State Warriors will begin their first-round NBA playoffs series against the Portland Trailblazers, and you can bet that Stephen Curry will be thinking about redemption, after last year becoming the first NBA team ever to lose the Finals after leading the series 3-1. But it won’t be panic or desperation that drives the reigning MVP. It’ll be determination and focus. How do I know this? The pod.
See that thing? Looks like some Mork and Mindy science, sure, but it’s a vital part of Curry’s training regimen that doesn’t involve shooting hoops, dribbling skill or stamina. For healthcare company Kaiser Permanente’s new “Train the Mind” campaign, Curry opens up about how he mentally prepares for big games and the rigors of pro basketball in general. And part of that involves the pod.
Created by agency Translation, the first ad in the campaign gives us a peek into how the sensory deprivation chamber helps Curry focus, calm his mind, and prepare for what’s to come. But perhaps more interesting is the Q&A-style videos that accompany the ad. While the spot looks great, and gets the story across stylishly, it’s the context provided by Curry’s frank discussion that takes it beyond just another cool sports commercial.
Translation’s chief creative officer is John Norman, an ad legend who’s work spans brands like Nike, Coke, HP, Adidas, and Gatorade, across agencies like Wieden+Kennedy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and TBWA/Chiat/Day L.A. Norman says Kaiser Permanente asked how they could leverage their NBA sponsorship platform to talk about the mental game in sports.
“Our response was to use the sports insight–game performance is more than 80 percent mental preparation,” says Norman. “You’ve heard coaches say it all the time: ‘Get your mental game right,’ ‘Get your head in the game,’ ‘Focus!’ If you are mentally prepared for a sport, as in life, you can pretty much do anything.”
After they found out Curry uses the deprivation tank, they started to wonder how the upset in last year’s Finals affected him. Despite being one of the most loved athletes, his game was being questioned with a lot of naysayers and negative banter. “That must mentally be hard, we thought, and when we discussed it with him, he talked about the importance of mentally blocking out the noise and not letting it get to you,” says Norman. “When the idea was presented, he with a smile said, ‘Thanks for not having me dribble a basketball.’ We took advantage of that idea creatively. We utilized and combined a shared value: KP’s advocacy of proactive mental health prevention, and Steph’s attention to a strong mental basketball game. He is one of the league’s top scorers, lives the preventative health lifestyle, and holds the same values as Kaiser. His use of deprivation tanks helped to make a storytelling device. The water then became a narrative, a noise for him to ‘Overcome’ and conquer.”
Not all athletes can pull off a confessional-type ad in convincing fashion, in a way that’s more real talk than hard sell. Norman says that’s because Curry is the real deal.
“He really does live his life this way, and was able to talk about training the mind–he’s willing to talk about this because he really does practice what he preaches,” says Norman. “He’s an honest, open person about it. The strategy is that we wanted people to hear from him. He socializes a lot, has conversations with his fans, inspiring others to use and practice with tools to prepare their minds and stay in the game, whatever game they play.”
As interesting as the campaign is, it’s a bit of a curveball coming from a healthcare brand, an industry we’re more accustomed to marketing with white lab coats, reliability, and friendly bedside manner. Taking a page from another mundane industry, this is a conscious effort from Kaiser and Translation to differentiate the brand from its competitors.
“Geico changed the way car insurance was talked about forever. They didn’t go by the advertising rules–they took a business value proposition, romanced it, and did something clever and fun, and they’ve done legendary work over the past two decades,” says Norman. “ Healthcare, especially personal healthcare, needs things like what we did with Curry because it needs to be disrupted. Taking sensitive and sometimes very mundane things that people need–like health care or car insurance–and creating a story or concept that has an unexpected device or smart twist can make for memorable and emotional connections to the audience. To make people care about healthcare, you have to entertain, provide emotional, provocative messages with insightful narrative.”