by Matt Paley
I’m glued to my TV (with everyone else in Boston) watching the retooled Boston Celtics (now the old big three–or are they suddenly the big four?) play the new big three from Miami.
About 10 minutes ago–during the first commercial break–I got a big surprise when Nike unveiled their new Lebron James campaign. Playing on their eternal “Just Do It,” Lebron sat in the same chair–in the same shirt, in fact–that he announced his big (and ill-fated, from a marketing perspective) decision to join the Miami heat, and asked: what should I do? Should I admit I’ve made mistakes?
What followed was a real evisceration. Lebron stands at a podium under a Hall of Fame banner, in a totally deserted room. This went well, he says to the lone caterer. He watches his giant banner in Cleveland fall. Amidst some funny moments (Lebron imagines becoming an actor on Miami Vice, plays a villain in a cowboy film), Lebron speaks a lot of the things his critics (including myself) have been thinking.
“Rise,” as Nike has dubbed it, is a good move for Lebron–I’ll admit I’m impressed, and I’m a hater–and a better move for Nike, who so recently stunned the sporting world with their similar Tiger/Earl Woods commercial. Whomever is directing these ads is a true Don Draper–someone capable of extracting not just drama and complexity out of these superstars, but (what reads as) maturity. Lebron doesn’t look stubborn sticking to his guns OR pathetic asking for forgiveness. Instead, he asks the same question so many times–what should I do? what should I do? what should I do?–that by the end of the 30 second spot, we want what he wants– to put it all behind us. The message is clear, and the humor is an improvement on Nike’s Tiger Woods strategy, which, played straight, was melodramatic enough (Earl speaks from beyond the grave!) to strike many as a bit creepy.
The real winner here is Nike, who doesn’t have as much of a stake in Lebron’s likeability as they do in his marketability. This commercial is going to be talked about. And with all the talk–whether you forgive Lebron, or don’t, find it pandering, or find Nike to be profiteering–no one will deny that “rise” makes damn good television.