Kobe Bryant, one of basketball’s greatest players and most masterful scorers of all time, was among the passengers who died on Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Bryant was 41. He retired in 2016 as a five-time NBA champion, 11-time All-NBA first-team selection, 2008 MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star and four-time All-Star MVP who spent his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also won Gold medals with USA Basketball at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. Stuff dreams are made of.
Kobe Bryant’s fame in basketball, and his colossus-like stature in the NBA notwithstanding, his face was made universally famous (he was not as well-known outside the US) actually by an ad: yes, the 2013 advert from Turkish Airlines, featuring Lionel Messi and Kobe Bryant in a selfie battle, which was named the ad of the decade by YouTube in 2015, as part of the video website’s 10th anniversary celebrations.
The 2013 spot shows the footballer and the basketball player in a battle of selfies, travelling around the world to outdo the other’s snapshots to represent Turkish Airlines’ tagline: “flying to more countries than any other airline”. Titled “Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout”, the advert echoed a spot from the same airline company the previous year, in which the sports stars competed for a child’s attention on an aeroplane. In Kobe vs. Messi, the footballer and the basketball player catch flights to a number of countries around the world and attempt to one-up each other with the best snap. Bryant gets a selfie with the Great Wall of China and a lion, who licks him on the cheek, while Messi gets one scuba diving and trekking through a jungle with a monkey.
Created by the agencies Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and Starcom, the advert had been viewed almost 141m times on YouTube by 2015 when YouTube awarded it the celebrated crown of the best of the decade."'Selfie Shootout' had all the right ingredients for success on YouTube – an adventuresome client, two of the most globally well-loved figures in sports, a great idea and a terrific platform to share our work," Crispin Porter + Bogusky chief executive Andrew Keller had said back then.
Turkish Airlines’ wildly popular video ad featuring the LA Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant and the Argentine/FCB soccer star Lionel Messi crossed the 100 million mark on YouTube within a month of its launch. It was an unprecedented number in the perspective of those days. The video was deemed a viral success from the start after racking up more than 4 million views just one day after it was posted to YouTube on December 6, 2012. The video ad was viewed more than any other travel ad created that year, including Air New Zealand’s Hobbit-themed safety briefing which got over 10 million views. It was, in fact, the 6th most-watched travel ad ever online, according to Visible Measures in 2012.
There is much to learn from the Bryant-Messi ad, especially for the large number of clients and agencies in India that are today using celebrity ambassadors:
-The choice of the celebrity requires much thinking. Turkish Airlines very astutely and smartly chose two celebrities from two very different constituencies of influence: Bryant who was God in the US because of basketball, and Messi who was the ruling deity of football in Europe, Asia and South America. Both had fame and fans in distinct geographies. Only when they came together did they do justice to Turkish’s claim of flying to more countries than any other airline.
-Crispin Porter had a story, a narrative in mind for the two legends. It was a story that had action, had humour, had involvement … and it was strategically focused on the Turkish claim of global reach-out.
-Despite their global fame and acclaim, Kobe and Messi came across as highly affable and friendly. Most times our celebrities are shown as if they’ve reluctantly stolen a few moments from a busy movie-shoot to feature in the ad! Everything is so rushed. And so cosmetic. Bryant and Messi looked their famous selves but did not let that fame cloud the frame.
-Between Bryant and Messi, Turkish Airlines must have paid more than a fortune. But the phenomenal success of the campaign, raised Turkish from just another carrier to a best-of-class airline, making the ROI on hiring these superstars well worth all the money spent on them.
Kobe Bryant is no more. But his legend will live on. His magic on the basketball court. His legion of fans. And his sunny disposition as a star who had no airs.
Kobe Bryant. RIP.
(Dr. Sandeep Goyal writes on Celebrities as Human Brands, picking different facets at different times.)