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Why the NBA is using ‘scrapbook storytelling’ to engage new fans



Basketball’s premier league is looking to attract new, younger fans in Europe with the launch of a nostalgic, educational and fun social campaign, ‘ABC of NBA.’

Last Summer, the NBA came up with a new plan to engage sports fans across Europe but needed the right creative agency to partner with to ensure the execution was spot on. Very aware that the reigning popularity of soccer eclipses the American sport, the marketing team realized they needed a whole new approach to stand out from the crowd.

“If you’re not already super interested in sports or basketball, the last thing you want to see and hear is just terminology, terminology, terminology,” explains Sara Trombetta, a content producer at the NBA. “It’s quite overwhelming and boring.”

Founded in 1946, the 30-team league has a rich history to tap into, which the team decided would be far better to utilize, using this as the crux of a campaign with a focus on going through the alphabet and, from A to Z, telling the story of the organization and the sport in a fun way.

After putting out the brief to a bunch of agencies, one came back that ticked all the boxes for the brand. It was from Studio Something in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Emma Lally, the deputy creative director there, laughs as she recalls: “I think the first conversation was, ‘Is this real?’ “We got the procurement email from the NBA and we were like, ‘Are we being targeted?’ But it was very real and we’re glad of that.”

The initial excitement from the agency continued as the project began to gain momentum. With its previous clients including BBC Sport, the shop is well-versed in creating work with an athletic edge, but previously, it has been football- or rugby-focused, so this presented a fun new challenge for the creatives.

“It’s so much more than just the sport,” says Lally. “It’s incredibly fast-paced, super interesting and the legacy of it is so rich. You’ve got everything around it; the culture, the celebs, fans, the shoes… the world that fills the NBA is huge.”

Having the opportunity to create an “encyclopedia of the sport” was hugely exciting but also a chance for the team to go on the learning journey, too. One thing they knew right from the get-go was that they wanted to avoid stereotypical tropes or anything that had been done to death prior.

The creatives found themselves asking when the heyday of the NBA was – which, of course, led to conversations including Space Jam and Michael Jordan. The golden 90s era was something they wanted to give a little nod to in the content, but the challenge was making sure that was still relevant to new audiences today.

Retro footage of the NBA

By piecing together old and new references, they then overlaid with bold graphics, which Lally calls “scrapbook storytelling.” She says that one of the challenges was the sheer amount of heritage they could draw from.

Nostalgia within advertising, and particularly about the 90s, is having its moment and the MTV era is rich for brands. “It’s quite good timing because the period that Gen Z are looking back at is the period where basketball felt like it was booming,” says Lally. “So, it didn’t feel like a contrived link. I think there’s lots of stuff out there that’s a bit pastiche. We were cautious that we didn’t want it to be too gimmicky or nostalgic for the sake of being nostalgic.”

As a 10-part online series, the content had to have more longevity than that. For example, the colors used in the graphics are inspired by the teams in the league that have been around for years. The chalkboard style feels quite education-led but not too dated.

As energetic as the design is, it’s juxtaposed with the smooth-talking voice-over that brings a sense of calm. It had to be someone who had a recognizable voice that was relatable but also someone interested in the sport themselves. It would also help massively if they were charming and endearing. No pressure, then.

Thankfully, they found the perfect person to fit that role and that person was Jesse Chuku, aka Chewks.

Shaq Reacts

“It had to be someone with their own presence but then coming in and just adding that sparkle to what we’re doing and almost being the hype man for the NBA, but a natural one,” says Lally. “That fandom is almost infectious.”

Boasting 3.8 million subscribers on YouTube alone, Chewks already had an interest in basketball and was almost reacting to the footage himself while doing the voiceover. Even though they had talented scriptwriters like Carl Finocchiaro working on the project, the social media star was able to come in and make it his own, which added to the authenticity of the project.

When the NBA first reached out to him, he “couldn’t believe it” and was on board right away. “Everyone who loves basketball, it’s their dream to play for the NBA or work for the NBA,” says Trombetta. “He’s been a pleasure to work with from the beginning. He’s super, super engaged and involved, which obviously makes it fun and easier.”

For the NBA, the goal is to get this project in front of as many eyes as possible, which is why it is launching it on its own YouTube channel first, as anyone can access it. It will also be available on the league’s app, in front of its paywall.

With the pilot going live this week, the team knows the stresses that are going to come with getting the other episodes out by March. Studio Something will have three editors working in tandem on this. All in all, by December, there will have been 10 episodes.

Drake at a basketball game

At the minute, they are “in the trenches” of episodes four and five. Lally says that the project is “so energizing” and that the team is learning so much daily.

Getting to swim through the archives of the NBA, as she puts it, is a director’s dream. The campaign evolves quickly and there’s no “scratchy beard time” at all.

It’s a big moment for the NBA, with many more projects in the pipeline for this year. “There’s never an off-season,” says Trombetta. “The ultimate goal of this series is to reach the top of the funnel, as we call it, which is the wider audience – getting that audience to trickle down. Ultimately, those will be the fans that come to our games, watch them on TV and buy our merch. And so, for us, that’s just exciting to see.”

Interested in seeing more creative campaigns? Check out our Ad of the Day and the Best Ads of the Week sections.

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