"We knew that competition in the hotly contested athletic shoe space had grown exponentially since Michael played in the NBA," recalls Michael Smit, client director for Vancouver-based Blast Radius, Air Jordan's lead agency. "So just showing up to compete wasn't enough. We had to make it clear to everyone, one more time, who the real champion was - and is."
To face that challenge, Nike's Air Jordan division collaborated with Blast Radius to develop a multichannel online-driven campaign to promote the February 19, 2005 launch of a 20th anniversary commemorative shoe, the Air Jordan XX.
"Everybody knows who Michael is - the 36-year-old who was a teenager the year the first Air Jordan came out, and today's 16-year-old," Smit says. "So the story we wanted to tell was not who Michael was, but how he became who he is, and what he represents to a new generation."
A big part of telling that story entailed rethinking how to connect with the brand's core customers, hoop-loving 16- to 21-year-olds, especially through online media.
"We knew the launch date gave us about a seven-week window after New Year's. So we looked at the calendar and said 'how do we make this thing rock every single day between then and February 19,'" Smit recalls.
The linchpin of the effort was a daily event, dubbed "Primetime," held on the shoe's special anniversary Web site, Jumpman23.com. Beginning in mid-January and for 20 days running, consumers could visit the Jumpman site for one hour each evening, at 8 p.m. EST - "Primetime" - where they were encouraged to register for a contest Each day there was a new clue, hidden behind one of the 20 symbols featured on the Air Jordan XX shoe straps. The laser-etched design covering the shoe straps featured symbols that stand for specific milestones in Jordan's career.
In addition to being released online, daily clues were also delivered via e-mail, voice mail, streaming video, and wireless text messaging. Smit acknowledges being surprised by the number of visitors opting to receive clues on their cell phones. "A huge majority of our customers use the Web regularly," he says, " but what really surprised us was how big a number used mobile messaging all the time. SMS (short message service) became a really important way for us to get word out on the street about the launch." Ads driving traffic to the Jumpman23 site ramped up in late January and extended through February on selected sites, TV, and in print. The online ads were featured on ESPN.com, Vibe.com, MTV.com, BlackPlanet.com, and Yahoo! Sports.
"As far as our online buys," Jon Maltby, creative director at Blast Radius explains, "the goal was to find the most direct ways of reaching the core community which has always supported the Air Jordan. We weren't just looking to send out banners everywhere for the sake of eyeballs. We didn't want to have Air Jordan banners next to every Orbitz in cyberspace. The idea was to be more narrow in focus, connect with our base, and get word out about the launch and the contest."
The campaign employed outbound e-mail, in-market billboards, and point-of-sale displays to communicate regularly on launch developments. TV and print were primarily used to support the online effort, a move Air Jordan brand manager Romeo Vega acknowledges marked an important strategic evolution from the TV-centric approach traditionally taken by the brand. "Consumers in the 16 to 21 range have always been our sweet spot," Vega says, "and the fact is, they aren't always watching TV as much as they used to."
Nonetheless, Smit believes the campaign's four 30-second TV spots, directed by Spike Lee, played an important role in the media mix by expanding awareness of the anniversary shoe to a broad consumer base.
"Metaphorically," Smit says, "the campaign's media strategy was conceived like a series of circles inside circles. On the outer circle is broadcast TV, which is a way of getting a message about the product out to a wide spectrum of consumers.
As you move inward to the core of the campaign, our online effort, the focus narrows somewhat, but the levels of depth and involvement increase."
The TV spots started in January and ran through February on broadcasts of sports events such as the Michael Jordan Celebrity golf tournament on NBC, the Super Bowl, and ESPN pro basketball broadcasts. Print ads also ran through February in Vibe, Slam, and ESPN the Magazine.
After clues were disseminated online for 20 days, "Game Day" on "Primetime" was set for February 5. On "Game Day" all the contestants who had signed up for the contest got to compete in an interactive game hosted by Spike Lee. The director, known for his passion for basketball, challenged registered users on their mastery of the Jordan legacy, quizzing them on the real meaning of each of the 20 symbols on the shoe. The grand prize winner received a trip to Denver for the NBA All-Star game on February 18. During the final two weeks before launch, "Primetime" highlighted a single feature of the shoe in 3D each day, unveiling the full virtual design two days before the retail launch.
A campaign ad blitz culminated the weekend before the launch, which included the NBA All-Star game and a live multimedia event called the "Michael Jordan Experience," both held in Denver. At first glance, the sheer variety of the events in the campaign may have seemed bewilderingly "busy" to those for whom integrated cross-media means a couple of 30-second spots, a few banners, a print ad, and a billboard. But the range of executions, both online and off, was deliberate, Smit explains. "We wanted to provide as many vehicles as possible for people to learn about and participate in the launch," he says. "We wanted to provide a continuum of communication, from 30-second ads people watched casually, to online venues where they could literally spend an hour every day."
The results make it clear that in tandem, the online and offline promotions succeeded in making the anniversary launch of the Air Jordan XX a true phenomenon. The campaign attracted 1.3 million visitors to the home Web site, bumping up Air Jordan Web traffic by over 300 percent from a year ago, according to Blast Radius. In addition, it drove an unprecedentedly high degree of repeat traffic, with many visitors visiting the site daily and staying both for the 60 minutes of "Primetime" and 30 or more minutes beyond that. And over 14,000 people registered to participate in the contest. "The lesson of this campaign for us," says Smit, "is that marketers have to learn from their customers. As marketers, we have this arrogant idea that we're the smart ones. But to communicate with a Jordan customer, you learn pretty quickly that you have to adapt to where they are and not think you're going to bring them where you are. In this case, they're online and on wireless devices."