New Spalding campaign seeks to bring the brand out of its own shadow

Walton Isaacson's first work for the brand celebrates "True Believers"

Walton Isaacson unveiled a new integrated campaign today for Spalding, the basketball equipment company that has been the exclusive supplier of game balls for the National Basketball Association for 30 years.

The campaign, called "True Believers," celebrates the athletes and fans that work hard despite obstacles, show up every day and ignore naysayers. It is the agency’s first work for the brand since winning the business last fall.

Damian Lillard, point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, and DeMar DeRozan, shooting guard for the Toronto Raptors are featured in the branding effort. In one online spot, Lillard muses about his nicknames on the court — Dame Time, Ill Lil, The Omen (no mention of Sub-Zero or Illard) — while copy presents Spalding’s own nickname generator, an online questionnaire that bestows each user with a new moniker based on their answers.

Spalding True Believer: Damian Lillard from #TrueBelievers on Vimeo.

"We brought Damian and DeMar on board as a tie-in to who we are as a brand," said Kenyatta Bynoe, senior director of marketing at Spalding. "They tie nicely into the idea of putting in the work."

It’s all is part of a web of new basketball content Spalding is rolling out. On Wednesday, Lillard and DeRozan will take part in a moderated interview that will be broadcast on the live video streaming site Periscope. The websites for the NBA and the sports news site Bleacher Report will auto-play the Lillard ad and a counterpart featuring DeRozan, as well as five-second shorts created specifically for social media. Banner ads and full wraps will complete the home-page takeovers.

All of the content encourages fans to use the hashtag #TrueBelievers, much of which will be featured on Spalding’s content hub,, which will actively aggregate tagged content posted on social media and host the name generator and branded videos.

Spalding is also running print ads in the basketball magazine SLAM, and in June, the company will release a docu-series that follows three or four athletes heading into the NBA draft.

Sometimes being ubiquitous is the same as being invisible. That’s the challenge that pushed Spalding to begin a search for an agency-of-record partner after years of occasional spots created on a project basis. "As the official basketball of the NBA, we certainly get credit for that, and we certainly are involved in that conversation, but we wanted to do a little bit more in terms of building our own brand equity and brand health," Bynoe said.

"Knowing that they're a brand that is 100 percent passively respected, we wanted them to be actively loved," said Vida Cornelious, EVP and CCO at Walton Isaacson. "Every player who has ever played the game of basketball can totally respect Spalding, but it just hadn’t been a part of the conversation in a long time. Our main motivation was to tell an authentic story, but one that could only be told by Spalding."

Besides basketballs, Spalding also supplies baseballs for the Little League World Series and makes volleyballs for championship games, so the infrastructure of the True Believers site won’t go to waste once the campaign is over, according to Bynoe. "Moving into 2017, we'll start to evolve the conversation to our other sports."

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