7 Things About Marketing We Can All Learn From LaVar Ball
If you’re a basketball fan or if you’ve tuned into SportsCenter any time the last six months, you’ve definitely come across LaVar Ball and heard a crazy comment or seen one of his wild antics. He’s a polarizing figure in sports today, and he’s probably not going away soon.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with LaVar, he’s the father of Lonzo Ball, this year’s 2nd overall pick in the NBA draft, selected by the Los Angeles Lakers. (If you’re completely unfamiliar with the Ball family, check out this link to LaVar and Lonzo Ball interview with Ellen)
Lonzo, a product of UCLA was one of the most highly touted draft picks of the last five years. Some say it’s due to his uncanny basketball IQ. Others will argue it’s due to the publicity and attention his father has brought to not just him, but the entire Ball family.
LaVar, who some think is exploiting his children for financial gain, a helicopter dad, or simply a nut (he claimed he could beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1) has made a name for himself by not only making wild claims like this, but by pulling his 16-year-old son, LaMelo, out of Chino Hills High School to focus on basketball, but also started the now notorious Big Baller Brand athletic line – a line dedicated to the Ball family of athletes.
As wild and off-the-wall LaVar seems in the media, he’s created tremendous value for himself, his family, and his new line, Big Baller Brand. Now, we don’t think LaVar is suited to be giving marketing seminars to executives anytime soon and his unorthodox approach to creating value through virality isn’t one we think is totally suitable. But, one thing is very clear:
His conviction to his brand, his product, and his ability to drive conversation and interest in whatever he discusses is second to none.
1. Authenticity above all else.
One thing you’ll find when reading or watching interviews with LaVar Ball is relentless consistency. He’s authentic through and through. In a time where we all crave authenticity with the brands we buy from, or the personalities we follow, it’s easy to see why LaVar commands so much attention. He might be outlandish - but he’s human, and you can sense his personality and humanity a mile away.
2. Believe in your team. Ride with who got you there.
Brands always try to reinvent themselves. Sometimes it’s not for the best. Let’s look at Coca-Cola in 1985 when they introduced “New Coke” — a shot across the bow to Pepsi as they tried to reinvent themselves. “New Coke” was a drastic change to the tried-and-true Coca-Cola flavor recipe. Needless to say, customers hated it, and Coke moved back to its original recipe less than 11 months later. They forgot what made them great.
LaVar built his name in 2016 based on the success of his son, Lonzo Ball. Some may say he’s riding his son’s coattails, but LaVar clearly is his son's biggest fan, and he’s not trying to change who he is. He knows why he’s great, and he keeps that as priority #1.
3. If your product is great, let the world know.
Let’s examine the old adage: “Quality speaks for itself”. While this holds true in most situations, adding context, dialogue, and a discussion around your products gives you a megaphone to spread the message.
Lonzo Ball was undoubtedly going to be drafted very early in the NBA draft regardless of his father acting as his self-employed hypeman. But the conversation he created and the buzz the followed Lonzo was 10x’d by LaVar - this lead to interviews, sponsorships, a reality TV show, and increased his celebrity, along with the celebrity of the entire Ball family.
Apple products are great on their own, but that doesn’t stop the company from holding an over-the-top keynote event to introduce each and every product twice a year. I guess you could say Apple is Ball’n?
4. Test the limits. If it doesn’t exist, build it.
After being questioned as to what shoe deal Lonzo was taking, LaVar said he and his three sons would settle for no less than $1 billion dollars to secure a shoe deal with Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour.
Let’s be serious...LaVar (and the rest of the world) knew he wasn’t getting a $1bn deal. But, he was testing the limits, and frankly, he was doing something that’s never been done before.
After not surprisingly being turned down on his request for a $1bn deal, LaVar founded Big Baller Brand. A brand dedicated to creating athletic merchandise for his sons. The price tag for Lonzo’s Z02 sneakers? A cool $495.
Checking around social media, you’ll see that they’re somehow actually selling these sneakers (we don’t know the actual number of sales) and the brand has become somewhat notorious.
Regardless of the success of Big Baller Brand, Lonzo Ball now has his own signature sneaker line and so does his younger brother, 16-year-old LaMelo Ball. It’s now sparked a discussion around sponsorships and inspired other athletes to consider creating their own brand.
With what was thought of as a joke has now, in a weird way, turned LaVar Ball into somewhat of an industry visionary.
5. Do something worth talking about.
Do we think LaVar Ball, a man who played a bit of college basketball back in his day, could *really* beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1? No.
Did anyone really expect him to land a $1bn deal with a major basketball shoe retailer? No.
Did anyone honestly think the Big Baller Brand launch of Lonzo’s Z02 shoe was going to sell out? No.
Has LaVar Ball found himself trending on Twitter, being a topic on SportsCenter, and generating more watercooler conversation than a few times this year? Absolutely.
Whether it’s intentional or not, LaVar Ball knows how to drive discussion around his brand, his products, and maintain their relevance. He’s gone from being a largely unknown figure to a sports household name by simply doing something worth talking about.
We’re not saying go out and make wild claims and ask for $1bn contracts. That worked for LaVar, but it’s probably not going to work for you and your business (if it does, let me know..I’d be shocked and fascinated). Rather, examine your niche and find something that’s just different enough to drive dialogue. That difference, however slight it may be, can put you on a trajectory that allows you to widen the gap against your competition.
6. Understand the Game.
LaVar’s son Lonzo was the 2nd pick in the draft. The first pick in the draft was Markelle Fultz, but you probably haven’t heard of him, and if you have you know there’s very little media coverage about his debut season. Contrast that with Lonzo who’s preseason statistics have been scrutinized, who has a reality show and who is more often on SportsCenter than not.
LaVar realized that sports are not just a display of athleticism, but first and foremost it’s a form of entertainment. Being entertaining sells tickets and garners sponsorship deals. Lonzo is certainly talented at basketball, but you could easily argue that LaVar is even more talented at entertainment.
7. Create a vision built to last.
When on the Ellen Show, Lavar said “The goal is to have my kid’s kids be trust fund babies,” - again, outlandish and a bit over the top, but the man has a vision. He has a goal.
LaVar is clearly looking to have all of his children in the NBA and competing at an extremely high level. Between having Lonzo being drafted #2, LiAngelo playing at UCLA, pulling LaMelo out of school to be homeschooled, his new Big Baller Brand line, and his reality TV show, LaVar is building for the future.
Many times when brands or individuals think of marketing, it’s usually in a myopic lens - it’s shortsighted and doesn’t tie back to a greater vision. Companies who are consistently winning have initiatives that ultimately tie back to a strategic initiative or goal - and that’s usually geared towards their customers.
Create a vision built to last and find a way to tie your initiatives back to that vision.
LaVar Ball sure does have an unorthodox way of doing business, but for him, it’s working. Sometimes you need to look beyond how he’s engaging with the media to see the method behind the madness. LaVar isn’t a genius or a marketing guru - he’s just a man on a mission and chose to do things his own way, and there are lasting lessons to be learned from his example.
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Helium is a digital strategy and execution company focused on working with brands to create elevated experiences.