Linsanity has swept the nation. Even people who hate the Knicks find themselves taken in by this great story of an unknown point guard who was about to released and sleeping on a couch becoming the Knicks’ game-changer, in the truest sense of the word.
This is the kind of icon that brands often fight to associate themselves with – a hard working, Harvard-educated athlete who embodies the American dream and the old adage that hard work pays off. A recent study suggests that he is more marketable than first name only NBA greats like Kobe and LeBron. Rumor has it that Nike will begin offering Linsane sneakers via Nike ID as soon as this week. No doubt the endorsement deals are already rolling in.
But brands should beware of marketing Linsanity. Aligning with a celebrity must be authentic and relevant in order to be successful. Take, for example, Ben & Jerry’s new Lin-inspired flavor, complete with lychee and fortune cookie pieces. Ben & Jerry’s is known (and loved) for its cheeky, humorous approach to flavor development (Chubby Hubby, anyone?). So their approach to creating a limited edition flavor was completely authentic to the brand. Unfortunately, it also prompted backlash, and a series of twitter apologies, due to the racial stereotyping involved with the flavor.
Why will Nike Linsanity probably work, while Ben & Jerry’s failed?
Authenticity – I’m not aware that Jeremy Lin is a major ice cream lover, or credits ice cream for his amazing performance on the court. But he definitely wears sneakers…
Relevance – Yes, Jeremy Lin went to Harvard. And yup, Ben & Jerry’s is from New England. But it ends there. Nike, on the other hand, has committed to basketball in a major way…and having a shoe aligned with a player is a proven formula for success. Launching via Nike ID would be particularly genius (and on the heels of the blockbuster Nike Fuel launch). Nike ID is a high-priced, presumably high margin product. It’s exclusive (often a criteria for trendy) and it eliminates the product development cycle time and enables them to go to market while Lin is still hot. After all, it remains to be seen if he will have the staying power of a Michael Jordan, Kobe or LeBron.
Aligning his play with your brand is appropriate – Racial stereotypes aren’t. (Never mind that Lin is from California).
In conference rooms across corporate America, marketers are scrambling to capture some of the Linsanity opportunity. Let the Ben & Jerry’s gaffe serve as a cautionary tale to us all.