“He’s one of the best basketball players in the world,” I replied, explaining some of his accomplishments. ” Why? “
“I really like his drink,” she says after stealing a sip of Mtn Dew Rise from a sample pack Pepsi sent me before my interview with James. Pandemic parenting at its best. With just a taste of the energy drink, she got hooked – and instantly became a LeBron James fan.
PepsiCo is banking on this kind of reaction after distancing James from rival Coca-Cola, which he endorsed for 17 years. The four-time NBA champion is considered one of the most marketable athletes in the world.
Pepsi unveiled its inaugural advertising campaign with James on Thursday. It will include an advertisement that will run throughout the NBA playoffs.
The new commercial, shot earlier this year, features James imagining what his life would be like if he rolled instead of “rising above” every day.
“Who would I be if I dozed off?” Skipped a workout? If I was distracted… If I had lost sight of my goals, ”he asks in the ad. “Nah, I chose to get up. “
James told CNBC he’s excited about the new partnership and hopes he can put Mtn Dew Rise on the map despite an already crowded energy drink space.
“I think the concept behind the energy drink is what I gravitate towards,” James said. “Rise above self-doubt and exceed the opportunity.
As 36-year-old James dominates the basketball court, leads various philanthropic and social justice initiatives in addition to leading the LeBron James business empire, which consists of a portfolio of everything from restaurants to media entities, he might be the last person. who needs an energy drink.
A crowded but growing category
The brand is touted as a way to “start the morning with a mental boost, immune support and zero grams of added sugar”. It comes in six fruity flavors, including Berry Blitz, Peach Mango Dawn, and James’ favorite, Pomegranate Blue Burst.
The Los Angeles Lakers star will be his face alongside other influencers who will be named over time.
“We know it’s a crowded category,” James said. “But we think there is more room. “
According to Euromonitor, energy drinks generated $ 14.15 billion in retail sales last year.
“It’s a category that is growing dramatically,” said Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest.
The category is seen as the next frontier for Coke and Pepsi, as soda consumption has declined as people have become more health conscious. The category leader by volume is Monster Energy, which is distributed by Coke.
“Energy is a top priority right now for PepsiCo, and they’ve gone pretty much everything by signing LeBron,” Stanford said. “It gives you an indication of how serious they are about energy, but also how well they think LeBron can really help them. “
In March, Pepsi renewed its sponsorship with the NBA as the league’s official soft drink. Mtn Dew will remain the main sponsor of the 3-point contest during All-Star Weekend. Pepsi resumed the relationship with the NBA in 2015, after Coke had partnered with it for nearly three decades. Pepsi also has relationships with NBA stars Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid.
‘An incredible ride’
The decision came as Coke reassessed its finances in response to the pandemic. The company’s sales suffered as fewer consumers visited restaurants, sporting events and movie theaters. At the time, Coke said she was looking to invest in places that guaranteed long-term growth. In addition to cutting more than 2,000 jobs, Coke reduced its global beverage portfolio from 430 to 200 brands, cutting brands like Tab soda and its smoothie business.
“I had an amazing ride with Coke and I still have great friendships there, and it’s going to last forever,” said James. “But when that opportunity presented itself, it was the perfect time for us to move on. “
Stanford said it was likely Coca-Cola couldn’t justify the cost of working with James. It’s unclear how much the deal was worth, but to the prospect, Nike’s deal with James is worth over $ 1 billion.
“He’s getting his hands in a lot of buckets now in media, sports, and entertainment, and it’s becoming a much more powerful asset in reaching young consumers,” Stanford said.
Pepsi would not comment on the value of its deal. He said James is the first athlete to launch a whole new brand and the partnership uses a new model to support James beyond just being an athlete. Pepsi will work with him on issues related to education, social justice and initiatives in underserved communities.
“Almost all of the partnerships and things I do at this point still have something to do with my foundation and ensuring that we continue to showcase my community and other communities that need a voice,” need an opportunity, ”James said.
His foundation’s philanthropic efforts include the I Promise School in his former hometown, Akron, Ohio. He also participated in More Than A Vote, a group supported by athletes to fight against voter suppression.
“I think we can all do more,” said James, when it comes to issues of social justice and bridging the wealth gap. “We can all do better,” he said.
When asked if he could have a future with Pepsi’s Gatorade sports drink, a seemingly natural fit, LeBron didn’t rule him out.
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” he laughs. “Obviously we want to start with small steps – crawl before we walk. We are in a good position right now, and we will see what opportunities are best suited to us, ”he said.
Gatorade mocked and apologized to James for a tweet from 2014 saying, “The person with the cramps was not our client. Our athletes can handle the heat, ”after James left Game 1 of the NBA Finals with leg cramps.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to meet anybody face to face and it’s because of the unfolding season where we are stuck in our hotel rooms,” he said. “I look forward to the opportunity to meet the CEO and meet all of the great people at Pepsi.”
He’s been involved on the creative side through Zoom calls and emails.
“Because my name is attached to it, when you do something that is close to your heart and it touches you, you absolutely want to be involved,” he said.
“They need that motivation. They need that person who gets up every day who wants to be better and who wants to be bigger, who wants to challenge things that other people don’t want to challenge, ”he said.
Still, James said even he had lazy days.
“There are weeks, there are days, there are months when I lack a little energy too, because I work hard, I go hard and I strive to be the best in what I do. person or music – I try to make the most of it. “
For Pepsi, joining King James is a big victory, according to marketing managers.
“He’s iconic,” said Bob Dorfman, Creative Director at Baker Street Advertising. “He’s definitely going to help move the product and on the PR side, it’s pretty cool that they stole Coke from him. “
And if you’re wondering about my daughter – potentially the youngest Mtn Dew Rise fan – yes, the drink works. She was up until midnight bouncing off the walls.