Kobe Vs. Lebron, Nike vs. Adidas, Gatorade vs. Vitamin Water. Sports and to a large degree Branding is about match-ups and rivalry. The NBA Finals are approaching and there is big money and brand exposure at stake. Many NBA fans are already salivating at the prospect of two of the players considered the best in the league going head to head for a title. J.R. Tolkien himself could not have written a better plot. Kobe "The Black Mamba" Bryant, seeking his 4th championship but more importantly trying to prove he can when his first without Shaq after being swept by the Boston Celtics in last years Championship round. Lebron "The King" James, The young phenom from Akron,Ohio seeks to take his hometown team to their first Championship in franchise history. The whole city of cleveland has not one a championship in any sport since the 1964 Cleveland Browns. There is also no bigger stage for Lebron to become a true Legend then going head-to-head against Kobe Bryant in a championship series and outplaying him. Young Vs. Old is not the only angle however, These are two players with two distinct personalities and playing styles. Kobe being the more reserved and tactical while Lebron is more charismatic and plays with a brute force, high-flying, and flashy style. With such distinct characteristics there is no middle ground, fans of kobe bryant usually respect but do not necessarily like Lebron James and the reverse is also true for Lebron fans. This is what makes this rivalry work. Fans aren't the only ones eager to see these two play each other in the NBA finals. Nike has already started airing commercials during playoff games that includes both players talking trash to each other in their MVP (Most Valuable Puppet) campaign. Nike sponsors both Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Vitamin Water who also sponsors both players have already begun their "Great Debate" campaign which features people making the case for either of the superstars by emphatically comparing their abilities. Appearing at the end of the commercial, an old man states "The boy definitely gets his vitamins". While both Nike and Vitamin Water are working hard to capitalize on this moment in sports, Adidas and Gatorade are sort of left on the outside looking in. They have chosen a different strategy which includes a very close relationship with the NBA, sponsoring the league instead of trying to get a lot of big name players with a few exceptions of course. Adidas did sponsor Kevin "The big Ticket" Garnet last year on the celtics amazing run to the NBA finals and they also sponsor Dwight "Superman" Howard, who is the biggest threat to challenge Kobe and Lebron on their way to the finals. The two sponsorship strategies are interesting and come with their own set of risk and reward. Sponsoring the league ensures brand exposure but is relatively tame in terms of impact on consumer behavior. Sponsoring a player can be dangerous because if the player gets injured (Ask Adidas about Kevin Garnett this year) then it can be devastating however the reward is much higher if that player becomes a household name and hot topic during the playoffs. What is interesting about basketball however is that nothing is guaranteed, Carmelo Anthony (also sponsored by Nike) and the Denver Nuggets have shocked kobe and the LA LAkers at home yesterday to tie the series 1-1 and Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers who up till wednesday have won every playoff game lost to the Orlando Magic at home in game 1. What is more interesting however is that it was just 5 years ago, Kobe was at the center of controversy himself as he was charged with rape in colorado in 2004. The charges were eventually dropped but many people questioned if he would ever be able to revive his reputation and get sponsorships back. Time has spoken and indeed he to a large extent has been able to recover from all the bad press. The Great Debate still lives on though, Who is the better basketball player, Kobe or Lebron? Will Nike and Vitamin Water continue to capitalize on their players success or will an upset in the regional championship series leave fans waiting another year to see this dream matchup?
This Nike Commercial is hilarious
MVP (Most Valuable Puppet) Nike Commercial
Vitamin Water Kobe vs. Lebron