By: Joe Cardoso
This past weekend thousands of people flooded Charlotte, N.C. for the NBA All-Star game. While things like the slam dunk contest, 3 points shoot out, and parties made headlines, major brands were there as well. Many companies are lucky enough to call themselves official partners with the NBA, and this was a significant weekend for them as well. With the help of my friends Warren Shaw and Cal Lee hosts of the podcast the NBA Baseline and All-Star weekend vets I learned and experienced “Brand Activation.” What is brand activation you ask? It is the art of making your brand know to people, increased awareness and engagement by some kind of experience. Most brands do this in 3 ways Sampling campaigns, Experiential Marketing, or In-Store brand activation. Almost every one of the brands at AS weekend used in-store, we were able to touch, and interact with the products and people who worked for the brands could chat with us. We saw a lot of different things all weekend but one thing was the same, and that is they wanted us to be taken to another place mentally when we walked in their doors.
The first place we went to was called NIKE HQ. Nike went all IN for the weekend having a guy by the name of Michael Jordan be in his home state had nothing to do with it I’m sure lol. The Mint Museum in Charlotte is vast, so that is where the swoosh takeover was at. No way you could miss it with the amazing bright red and white banners draped over the building and great Nike athletes pics posted along the outsides. These guys are organized the line was so long, but I stayed in it maybe 8 mins, impressive stuff. Once inside I was blown away by the setup, All-Star jerseys along the walls, hip-hop blasting from the speakers for a second I wanted to find a bar and order a drink. They put together an EPIC half-court basketball court and had youth clinics going on for the kids. Not just that but the walls surrounding the court acted as billboards that switched sayings and videos of Nike athletes and iconic basketball moments. Have I mentioned this was only the FIRST floor? As we made our way up you found sneakers, not just normal ones but some of the DOPEST kicks Nike has come out with encased in glass. And to really breakdown the who, what, when and why they had one of my journalism and media heroes Scoop Jackson. We caught up he shed some light on the Kyries they had on display; the whole thing was off the hook. Not to be done they had a customization center to make t-shirts and jerseys. Flat screens with the background of a ton of Nike athletes and some personal highlights. I was shocked at how a museum was transformed into a Nike wonderland. The bottom level was a store with all the shoes and sizes you could want along with gear. For being my first brand activation, Nike set the bar HIGH. Oh, not to be forgotten free posters for folks as well as gifts for Nike SNKRS app members.
The next stop was Express who has players like Trae Young, Jason Collins and Mo Bamba rocking its gear. With a “Dress Like A Pro” campaign, we attended a VIP event. The event took place at the heart of All-Star weekend the Epicentre. Again smooth set-up red carpet leading to the door had me feeling like JayZ going to the Grammys. The young lady at the door was professional and friendly as was the doorman. Once inside this had the feel of an upscale nightclub: music just loud enough well-dressed crowd and staff. I headed upstairs to find a fun bartender with samples of Jack Daniels Honey (which by the way is freaking amazing). The downstairs bar was set up perfect with express branding all around but still showing love to the All-Star Game. The crew showed up, and we found a unique customization station. Pick an item hoodie, t-shirt and have it embodied by they Express artist for FREE! How cool is that? I figured no way they have anything for a guy who’s 6’4 forgetting they have Mo Bamba who stands 7 feet on their side. I grabbed a hoodie and got my company Twitter handle on the bottom, pretty cool I think, and the food was good as well. No one can say no to wings along with some tasty cocktails; I was also able to meet one of the faces of the campaign Mo Bamba and snap a picture these little touches are what people remember its an experience. We found a mini shop inside with NBA Express gear for both men and women, friendly staff waiting to help us out. On our way out another young lady offered to take the classic red carpet pic of us which we didn’t dare say no. Express showed me a lot and just off this activation I’ll be checking out the site for items.
When you are the new kid on the block, you have to come out tight and come out swinging. In the world of basketball shoes, Puma is the new kid this past weekend was a chance to show everyone they mean business. Taking an old building behind the arena where all the hoops took place, they created the Pump Palace. From the outside, I got the feeling I was walking into one of those NYC underground clubs, with the Puma Hoops spray painted on the building, an old van with tons of basketballs with an evil face painted on it. Once inside we were greeted by a ton of people, and this place was different. They had 3-4 old school video games made to be centered around the brand. A guy holding the newest shoes who was HYPE and knew all about the product welcomed us as well. The floor was a club like with bright flashing lights, and Kendrick Lamar going, made my way upstairs to find an area to try on shoes, a half-court area where you could shot some jumpers or dunk. They had a bunch of monitors stacked up displaying some of their athletes and the products as well. It was cool, but unlike my other visits, I was not blown away. Downstairs also had a shop for Puma shoes and gear. But where was the swag? Can I get something custom made? They ended the weekend strong with a merch drop in Chinatown and a performance by Hip-hop star Nipsey Hussle.
The official watch of the NBA they created the “Tissot Style Lounge” the space and design gave a boutique kind of feel which I was all about. All the NBA related products were on display and looked great as a watch lover I found the attention to detail to be spot on. Plenty of friendly staff to answer any questions and a long line outside waiting for an appearance from Golden State Warrior Klay Thompson and ESPN personality Cassidy Hubbarth. In terms of cool things to do they knocked it out the park. With a locker room experience, they provided you with a ton swag and props to use and wear. You went into a room and walked out while being filmed and they used that video to intertwined with real-life players who are members of team Tissot. My video didn’t come out the way I wanted but either way, the whole idea is cool, the kids loved it, and again I saw people buying watches which is what brand activation is all about.
In terms of parties, I went to two of them one was sponsored by Budweiser, and it was fun. Games, prizes for VIP’s good music and setup highlighted by a French Montana performance and some new Dreamville artist. But for me the best party was Sunday. We attended The Beats By Dre afterparty which was awesome! The use of the space and the transformation of the building to a club was flawless. The DJ was cranking out the hit after hit until J Cole and company hit the stage and just rolled through their catalog. Plenty of bartenders and no lines it was what you would want a party to be — free swag at the door and more throughout the night.
Overall based on my trip, I see the importance of brand activation. I also learned that the NBA is a business and so much more than a simple game. I can’t wait to bundle up next year, and head to Chicago maybe take in the actual game. I want to thank my tour guides through all of this Warren Shaw and Cal Lee as well as the brands that showed love Express, Nike, Tissot, Puma, Beats By Dre, Budweiser. Final thoughts are regularly creating fun and experiential brand activation events that reach the right people can ensure that a brand stays in the minds of its target audience.