Lebron James, A Successful Rebrand

Posted by: Jonathan Weiss
  • June 24, 2016
Image Credit: Dallas-Fort Worth Cbslocal.com

Image Credit: Dallas-Fort Worth Cbslocal.com

Two years ago, I wrote about LeBron James’ decision to return to Cleveland. This move represented the launch of a campaign to repair his brand, still suffering from his ill-conceived nationally-broadcasted decision to leave Northeast Ohio and take his talents to South Beach. His return home in 2014 was carefully constructed and messaged at the time, but his rebrand was built on the promise to once again become Northeast Ohio’s native son, emblematic of middle-American hard-work, commitment, and perseverance toward the goal of bringing home a championship. The success of his rebrand relied on the fulfillment of that promise.

Let’s fast-forward to Game 7 of this year’s national championship series. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, I watched LeBron weep with joy, and I couldn’t help but tear up myself. I was a huge critic of LeBron following his 2010 departure from Cleveland and would never have imagined that in just six short years I could find myself once again rooting for him and sharing in his triumphant joy.

Like any successful execution against a brand promise, it’s critical to consistently message to and deliver against what it uniquely stands for. Think “low prices” for Walmart, “young and hip” for Apple, and the “ultimate driving machine” for BMW. How did LeBron deliver against HIS brand promise?  The 4 P’s can help guide us on his journey:

  • Place: He couldn’t do this for just any team. It had to be Cleveland, the city … (a) he had spurned four years prior; (b) that had not won a major sports championship in 50+ years; and perhaps most importantly (c) his hometown.
  • Product: He had to stay at the top of his game. This may seem obvious, but it required supreme dedication to staying in shape, honing his skills, and meshing the various talents on his team. The rebranding couldn’t be complete without the championship.
  • Price: Despite a hefty salary, LeBron’s return to Cleveland figured to generate nearly 10 times as much revenue for his hometown.
  • Promotion: He needed consistent positive messaging to counterbalance the reputation damage incurred by “The Decision.” It began with his well-constructed statement in Sports Illustrated where he humbly admitted to his communication misstep in 2010 and committed to working as hard as possible to bring a championship to the Cavs. He stayed on-message throughout the past two years, all while backing up his words with his actions on the court. Even once he had won and relieved some of the pressure, his performance and his message never wavered. As he clutched the championship trophy, he offered these words to his Cleveland fandom: “Just knowing what our city has been through, Northeast Ohio has been through, as far as our sports and everything for the last 50-plus years. Our fans, they ride or die, no matter what’s been going on. For us to be able to end this drought, our fans deserve it. It was for them.”

So now that he’s followed through on his promise to win a championship in Cleveland, what’s next for LeBron? At the championship rally, he quickly dispelled any rumors that he might consider another exit from Cleveland, and instead chose the path of building a sustained greatness there, which would continue to solidify his brand promise as Northeast Ohio’s native, hard-working hero. After using his speech to individually thank each of his team members, he closed by turning his attention to the Cleveland fandom: “I’m nothing without y’all. I love all ya’all. Let’s get ready for next year.”

Categories: Advertising, Brand, Marketing

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