LeBron’s new Nike commercial misses the mark

Oct 26, 2010, 5:46 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Mike Salk

I’m not normally prone to watching regular season NBA games, but with the national hype around LeBron James, and the 2011 Pre-Ordained NBA Champion Miami Heat, I figured I’d check out their opening night tilt against the Celtics.

Bad move. At least so far.

Halfway through the second half, and the Celtics lead 31-16. The Heat mustered just nine points in a sloppy first quarter. That would put them on pace for a whopping 36 in this game. Look, I know things will get better and they’ll probably win a ton of games this year. But this game is doing nothing for my waning interest in the NBA.

That said, I do find LeBron’s quest to revive his image fascinating. If you haven’t heard, he has a new Nike spot which seeks to give his personal brand a makeover.

When we discussed it today, Brock saw that as an attempt to evoke sympathy. I didn’t read it quite that way. I think LeBron, Nike and his PR people are trying to rebrand him as a bit of a rebel. By asking, “what should I do?” in a nearly mocking way, I think LeBron is trying to tell us we don’t really get a say in how he lives his life.

He may right.

We don’t get to tell LeBron how to live his life. But we do get to judge his decisions for ourselves. That’s the price he pays not just for being a superstar athlete but for accepting the large endorsement deals from Nike and others. When he sells Nike, he is selling the LeBron brand image. And of we don’t like that image, he isn’t an effective pitchman.

Right now, we don’t like his image. I don’t mean that I don’t like it or Cleveland doesn’t like it or the haters don’t like it. I mean America doesn’t like it. According to a company that measures Q Rating (a measurement of a celebrity’s popularity), LeBron’s popularity has dropped considerably since January of 2010. In fact, the number of people who look at him favorably dropped from 24 percent to 14 percent. Even worse, the percentage of people who look at him in a negative light rose from 22 percent to a whopping 39 percent.

In my view, this commercial is not going to drastically change that score. If anything, it could worsen the gap. I’m not sure we are ready to accept LeBron as a rebel when just a few months ago he was trying to sell himself as golden boy-king. I’m not sure we are ready to feel sympathy for him either.

In my view, the best thing LeBron could do would be to answer his own question. He asks, “should I apologize?” I say, yes. He should. He should tell us that he blew it. He should tell us the Decision was a bad idea and didn’t really exemplify who he is as a person. He should explain that he got caught up in the drama of the moment but that he now understands that he isn’t bigger than the game. I think people would accept that and his Q Rating would climb and his brand image can be repaired.

I think we tend to relate to a humbled athlete or a star who gets it. By acting defiant in his commercial/makeover, LeBron seems to be attempting to go the other direction.

OK, I’ll go back to trying to watch the game now. Feel free to jump into the conversation as I know this seems to spark a lot of emotion…

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