There are some in the sports world calling the new Nike ad, featuring LeBron James in an attempt to rescue his image after last summer’s disastrous Decision, brilliant and just what James needed to bounce back in the mind of the public.
It is certainly better than the one Nike did in an attempt to rehabilitate Tiger Woods (the spot that featured the voice of Tiger’s late father, Earl), but I suspect James’ reputation will be more dependent on what happens on the basketball floor than in any Nike spots.
This spot, in my view, does James no favors. For one thing, the ad is all inside baseball. It responds directly to criticism James received after he made his decision to leave Cleveland and sign with Miami during an ill-advised one-hour television special. There’s “I am not a role model,” made famous by Charles Barkley, followed by a shot of James eating a doughnut (referencing Barkley’s girth), for example.
For those allusions to have any effect, you’d have to be an NBA fan who knows that history (and others featured in the commercial). For the general public, the references are simply confusing.
There’s something else lingering underneath the spot that does James no favors, because it actually supports the reason why James’ fall from grace was so spectacular: The look-at-me arrogance of it all. The spot continues that kind of attitude with a theme that basically plays out as “woe is me.”
The thing Nike is forgetting, and is something all brands should remember, is that refocusing a brand (or, in this case, a basketball player’s reputation) means you have to address the belief systems that are already in the marketplace. That, for example, physicians believe insurance companies do not treat them fairly. The belief system here is that LeBron James is an egomaniac. If anything, the spot simply supports that belief instead of truly addressing it so an emotional connection is established.
It doesn’t make you think James is misunderstood. It makes you think he’s understood exactly right.