Over the course of his 20-year NBA career, Kobe Bryant has starred in as many commercials you might expect from a perennial all-star with five championship rings. Nike, Apple, NBA2K, Adidas, Turkish Airlines, Call of Duty, and more are among the stable of global brands he’s worked with. But his newest ad is a bit different.
Launched in 2012 by Vitaminwater founder Mike Repole, BodyArmor has always had its sights set on challenging the sports drink duopoly of Gatorade and Powerade. Its two most obvious differences are the fact that is has no artificial flavors or colors, and the athletes who endorse it are also stakeholders in the company. Including the nine who appear in the brand’s new campaign–Houston Rockets’ James Harden, L.A. Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis, WNBA star Skylar Diggins, and pro golfer Dustin Johnson.
Bryant appears in voice only, but he’s also the creative director behind the spot.
There’s only one thing that separates the bad from the good, the good from the great, the greats from the legends. Just one thing. Obsession. It’s a choice, not a gift. It’s ruthless, pain, sacrifice. Obsession is unforgiving. It’s in everyone, but it’s not for everyone. Every athlete has the choice. Hunt or be hunted. It’s only natural.
But before your eyes roll out the back of your head, this isn’t a throwback to the brief trend of celebrity creative directors. Bryant’s not only the company’s third largest investor, after Repole and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, but the future NBA Hall-of-Famer says he knew he had more to offer. “I’ve been writing a lot of my own campaigns throughout my career, and storytelling has been something I picked up in that time,” says Bryant. “I’ve always been fascinated with writing ads, how do you say something clearly in 30 to 60 seconds? I’ve been in that space. So it felt like this was one of the best ways I could help the brand, beyond just lending my name to it. What else of value can I bring to the brand? The storytelling aspect is one of the most important pieces.”
On the surface, the ad itself, created with agency Brian&Ford, doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from any other pep-talk-style sports ad. But Bryant says the messenger is as important as the message itself. This isn’t just coming from an ad agency boardroom, but from athletes who live the life. “Obsession is a word that came to my mind immediately, and the fact it comes naturally to us,” says Bryant. “So when I stepped back, I thought, ‘obsession is natural,’ that’s our line. That’s our ethos. From there it was about how we challenge the next generation. It’s not about inspiring the next generation, it was about challenging them. Those are two different things. It’s not just saying, ‘This is what needs to be done.’ It’s ‘This is what needs to be done, and are you willing to do it?’ That is the most important part. If you can move beyond the screen to within the athletes themselves, force them to look in the mirror and ask ‘do I really want this?’ then we’re doing the right thing.”
It’s also meant to shift the brand apart from the sports drinks you might pick up at the corner store because you’re thirsty. Bryant says this approach is meant to target elite athletes and those who aspire to that. “Those who want to be the 1% of athletes, we’re the brand for you,” he says. “Those who think about baseball, football, basketball, golf, whatever their sport, nonstop, all day long because you want to be one of the greats, we are the brand for you, and this is how we’ve done it. This is how James has done it. This is how Andrew’s done it. This is how Sherm did it. If you want to get to that level, this is what needs to be done.”
The most important lesson in advertising Bryant has learned over the course of his career came from legendary Wieden+Kennedy creative director Jim Riswold. “He told me that when it comes to messaging, people overcomplicate it all the time,” says Bryant. “They show you all kinds of research, statistics, psychographics, demographics, and all this other nonsense. But he said, understand the truth of what you’re trying to communicate, then speak simply and plainly.”
Under no illusions to the challenge at hand–Gatorade owns more than 75% of the sports drink market–Bryant isn’t in a rush. He sees brand building as a long game. “I’m not trying to communicate to the world what BodyArmor is about in one ad, in one day, or in one campaign,” he says. “It’s about having the patience to build it over time. Just like the athletes in the video. You see them working out, but that’s one small glimpse into what they do over and over and over, for years and years and years. That’s how you get those results. So we must be true to that ethos ourselves in how we story the brand, by being extremely patient and allowing it to grow over time.”