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Why Lebron James' Latest Cause Marketing Campaign is a Bust

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School's MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Zachary Worthington

“The number one thing I want to accomplish with the show is for it to continue to inspire kids.”
-LeBron James

HP, Intel, and NBA mega-star LeBron James recently teamed up to produce an animated web series called The LeBrons. James says The LeBrons is meant to inspire kids and provide them with life lessons. The opening clip in the first episode highlights James claiming the show will address the life lesson “two wrongs don’t make a right.” The life lesson I learned is that The LeBrons lacks authenticity and contributes to the general overuse of cause marketing. Here are three of the wrongs with this campaign that don’t make a right: 1) Lack of credibility. The LeBron James brand has suffered in recent years with marketing blunders like “The Decision.” Additionally, the large tattoo on his back that says “chosen one," his nickname “King James,” and the fact that all four main characters in The LeBrons are LeBron are all indications that James is not wholly focused on altruism. HP and Intel may have thought teaming up with a sports celebrity was a good idea, but it would appear that no one at either company was concerned with the merits of the final product.
2) Ambiguity of positioning.
The LeBrons home page contains standing advertisements for adult computer gadgets like the HP ENVY 17 series laptop. The webisode itself contains blatant materiality, female objectification, and a reference to one of the most violent movie scenes ever filmed. It would appear The LeBrons is actually targeted to adult sports fans who surf the web (like me) rather than to kids in need of inspiration.

3) Lack of accountability. This is a common theme in today’s marketing world. So common that writers like Tim Ogden are developing accountability metrics for measuring the validity of cause marketing campaigns. In the case of The LeBrons, kids are being used to market computers and to paint James as a role model. Intel claims The LeBrons teaches youths lessons in altruism through story, but can they really make this claim?

Perhaps the right approach for Intel and HP is to highlight The LeBrons as a creative marketing campaign designed to connect superior technologies with a superior athlete. The Intel/HP team should boast the quality of their products and not comment on the merits of this programming. That way, they can build their brand on transparency rather than ambiguity.

What comes to mind when you watch this first episode of The LeBrons?

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