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Giannis Antetokounmpo is the perfect pitchman for WhatsApp

Meta’s messaging platform used the All-Star Game to announce the reigning NBA champ and two-time MVP as its first global spokesperson.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the perfect pitchman for WhatsApp
[Source Images: Getty, WhatsApp]

When Giannis Antetokounmpo first came to the U.S. from Greece to play in the NBA, he came alone. His lifeline to keep in touch with his family, friends, and loved ones back home was WhatsApp. “It allowed me to connect with them, and it was a very big part of my life,” Antetokounmpo tells Fast Company.

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Over the weekend, the 2021 NBA All-Star Game MVP used this year’s All-Star game in Cleveland to announce his new role as the global face of the Meta-owned messaging platform, WhatsApp’s first-ever brand spokesperson. The move comes less than a month after WhatsApp launched its first-ever U.S. brand campaign.

Because of his history with WhatsApp, the Milwaukee Bucks star says his newest brand partnership was an easy decision. “When it came to my doorstep, I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like that,” he says.

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To announce the deal, Antetokounmpo made the All-Star Game tunnel walk wearing a custom hoodie designed by Post Imperial, the fashion brand founded by Nigerian-American designer Niyi Okuboyejo, that features the numbers 234, the international calling code for Nigeria, a nod to the NBA star’s family roots. “I love the idea, on this big stage to represent where my family’s from, my culture, and the people in Nigeria,” says Antetokounmpo.

It was Antetokounmpo’s rookie year when Meta, then Facebook, bought WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion, leading many stateside to say, Whats-whaaaa? Antetokounmpo says it really surprised him how few of his teammates back then had even heard of the app, which gained massive global popularity outside the U.S. for its easy, cheap access across mobile systems. He says it’s been great to see it grow here, and he plans on helping that continue. Just remember who was there first. “People here have WhatsApp for a couple years and think they’re pros,” he says. “I tell them, ‘Nope. I’ve had WhatsApp for nine years, buddy.'”

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Antetokounmpo doesn’t just sign on to rep any logo. He’s a long-time Nike guy, and has deals with JBL headphones, pitched for Google’s Pixel 6, and has an ownership stake in Ready Nutrition. His evaluation process for brand partnerships and investments can be boiled down to a two simple criteria: Does he really like the product? And does he like it enough that he’s willing to give it his time?

“When I have an opportunity for an endorsement, I have to make sure I really enjoy doing it, and it makes sense. Everything I do is authentic. I’m not trying to promote just any company to grab the money,” says Antetokounmpo. “Time is very important. I have my family, and I need the time to dedicate to be great at what I do, which is basketball. When I get myself involved with a brand partnership, it has to be as authentic as possible, and I let them know I’m not here to just say some nonsense in interviews or whatever. It has to be an authentic fit. The fans can tell, too. They know if you’re just doing it for the money, or you really believe what you’re saying.”

So now that he’s one of the biggest sports stars on the planet, with a new major brand partnership, I ask him if a sports star ever convinced him to buy something.

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“You know Ronaldinho? He used to advertise Lay’s chips,” says Antetokounmpo. “And it made me crave some chips! He was one of the best players in the world, and one of the coolest, in the way he carried himself. He was definitely a guy that made me want to go buy chips.”

Years later, the connection between superstars and their advertising really hit home. At his first-ever All-Star game in 2017, there was the Barcelona and Brazil national team legend sitting courtside. After the game, they swapped jerseys, and took photos. But was the young NBA star thinking about Ronaldinho’s Ballon D’Or or FIFA World Player of the Year awards, or his Champions League and World Cup trophies?

“I saw him,” he says. “And the first thing I thought of was the chips!”

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That’s how he sees this new partnership with WhatsApp. He knows he’s now linked to the brand and vice-versa. “Yeah, when you think of Giannis, you think about WhatsApp,” he says. “When you think about WhatsApp, you think about Giannis.”

I think we just found WhatsApp’s new tagline.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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