After Damian Lillard dropped a buzzer beater for me right on fellow 6621 classmate Doug Rossi’s head in NBA 2K17 the other night, I got to thinking about why I liked Lillard so much in the first place. His marketing team does a good job with him, and they make him feel “authentic” in a way that other try-hard brands just don’t.
I did some digging, and I started to remember why he’s so likable. For one, he’s the rare athlete that claims that he can rap and doesn’t suck at it. This freestyle from a couple years ago is both really good and gives his fans a window into what makes Lillard who he is.
Lillard’s team at Goodwin Sports Management harnesses this skill expertly. They created an Instagram movement called #4BarFriday, in which anyone can spit four lines, or “bars” of rap, and if someone catches Lillard’s attention, he shares the video with his followers. The trend started before the 2013-14 season, and Lillard got stars from Paul George to LeBron to offer up the best bars that they could come up with.
That season was Lillard’s breakout year on the court, too. The Blazers jumped from 33 to 54 wins in Lillard’s second year in the league as Lillard dropped over 20 points per game. Portland won a playoff series for the first time in a while, as well, capped off by Dame’s signature moment of his young career.
I watched this live; it was electric. The Blazers are Portland’s only team, and they have a tortured history. They drafted Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan in 1984, and drafted Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in 2007. Oden and guard Brandon Roy were supposed to carry the team back to the glory days of the 1970s — which were also cut short by injury — but they both crashed and burned out of the league with various knee injuries. The great people of Oregon deserve a charismatic star more than just about any fan base, and in that moment, he arrived.
Lillard’s team leveraged his ascension into a signature shoe before the next season, and instead of dropping just another commercial or doing a roll out at a local Adidas outlet, they dropped their best #4BarFriday yet. If that was the long game the whole time, that’s pretty genius. If it wasn’t, that’s still pretty smart, and they kept it up for what Lillard is probably most famous for now: his State Farm raps.
People in middle America still may not know who Damian Lillard is, but they definitely know who the baby, or Dame Dolla, from “Meet the Hoopers” is. This is my favorite athlete endorsement in a while, and whoever had this idea at State Farm, or State Farm’s ad agency, needs a promotion.
He may not have had the same flow as his “Sway in the Morning” spot, but it’s definitely catchy, and it you’ve watched an NBA game in the last year, you’ve had “DROPPING DIMES DROPPING DIMES” in your head for longer than you wanted to.
Most athletes’ social media activity is either cringe-worthy for it’s stupidity, or bland for it’s shameless promotion. To use some buzz-words, Lillard and his team added value to his brand through authenticity and next-level creativity. It also helps to have some natural flow.