“Mom, who is LeBron James?” my 4-year-old daughter asked.
“He’s one of the best basketball players in the world,” I replied, explaining some of his achievements. “Why?”
“I really like his drink,” she said, after stealing a sip of Mtn Dew Rise from a sample pack Pepsi sent me prior to my interview with James. Pandemic parenting at its best. With just one taste of the energy drink, she was hooked — and instantly became a LeBron James fan.
PepsiCo is counting on that kind of response after luring James away from arch-rival Coca-Cola, which he supported for 17 years. The four-time NBA champion is considered one of the most salable athletes in the world.
Pepsi unveiled its inaugural James advertising campaign on Thursday. It will feature a commercial that will air during the NBA playoffs.
In the new ad, which was shot earlier this year, James envisions what his life would be like if he were to “reach out” instead of “rising above it” every day.
“Who would I be if I snoozed? Skip a workout? If I got distracted… If I lost track of my goals,” he asks in the ad. “No, I have chosen to stand.”
James told CNBC he’s excited about this new partnership and hopes he can put Mtn Dew Rise on the map despite an already crowded energy drink space.
“I think the concept behind the energy drink is what I’m leaning towards,” James said. “Rise above self-doubt and rise above opportunity.”
As 36-year-old James dominates the basketball court, leading several philanthropic and social justice initiatives in addition to running the business empire LeBron James, which consists of a portfolio of everything from restaurants to media entities, he may be the last person to drink an energy drink. need.
Before everyone else, Pepsi executives hope Mtn Dew Rise stands out enough to stand out. It contains about the same amount of caffeine as two cups of coffee and is packed with vitamins.
The brand is promoted as a way to “start the morning with a mental boost, immune support and zero grams of added sugar.” It comes in six fruity flavors, including Berry Blitz, Peach Mango Dawn, and James’ favorite, Pomegranate Blue Burst.
The Los Angeles Lakers star will be the face alongside other influencers to be named over time.
“We know it’s a busy category,” James said. “But we think there’s more room.”
Energy drinks generated $14.15 billion in retail sales last year, according to Euromonitor.
“It’s a category that’s growing significantly,” said Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest.
The category is seen as the next frontier for Coke and Pepsi, as soda consumption has declined as people have become more health-conscious. The volume leader in the category is Monster Energy, which is distributed by Coke.
Pepsi is not new to the category. It acquired Rockstar Energy in March 2020 for $3.85 billion and initial results have been positive. During the first quarter earnings call, Pepsi CEO Ramon Laguarta said Rockstar’s sales are growing again after years of flat or declining demand. Laguarta said it was too early to say if it would bring new consumers to the category, but the brand’s resurgence has been encouraging.
“Energy is a major priority for PepsiCo right now and they have basically pulled out all the stops by signing LeBron,” Stanford said. “It gives you an indication of how serious they are about energy, but also how much they think LeBron can really help them.”
In March, Pepsi renewed its sponsorship with the NBA as the official soft drink of the competition. Mtn Dew remains the title sponsor of the 3-point game over All-Star Weekend. Pepsi took over the relationship with the NBA in 2015, after Coke worked with it for nearly three decades. Pepsi also has relationships with NBA stars Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid.
James was an 18-year-old phenomenon when he signed his deal with Coke and started working with the Sprite brand. During his time with the company, he helped market Sprite and Powerade by appearing in many commercials and even a limited edition flavor. Last September, he mutually agreed to break up with Coca-Cola.
The decision came as Coke re-evaluated his finances in response to the pandemic. The company’s sales declined as fewer consumers went to restaurants, sporting events and movie theaters. At the time, Coke said it wanted to invest in places that enabled long-term growth. In addition to cutting more than 2,000 jobs, Coke cut its global beverage portfolio from 430 to 200 brands, with brands such as Tab soda and its smoothie business retiring.
“I’ve had an incredible ride with Coke and I still have some great friendships there, and that will last forever,” James said. “But when this opportunity presented itself, it was perfect timing for us to move on.”
Stanford said it’s likely Coca-Cola can’t justify the expense of working with James. It’s unknown how much the deal was worth, but for perspective, Nike’s deal with James is worth over a billion dollars.
“He now has a lot of buckets in his hands in media, sports and entertainment, and that’s going to be a much more powerful asset when it comes to reaching young consumers,” Stanford said.
Pepsi declined to comment on the deal’s value. It said James is the first athlete to launch an entirely new brand, and the partnership uses a new model to support James beyond just being an athlete. Pepsi will work with him on education, social justice and initiatives in underserved communities.
“Virtually all of the partnerships and things I do right now have always had something to do with my foundation and ensure that we continue to give a chance to my community and other communities that need a voice,” said James.
To be foundation’s philanthropic endeavors include The I Promise School in his former hometown, Akron, Ohio. He has also been involved in More than a voice, a group backed by athletes to fight voter oppression.
“I think we can all do more,” James said, when it comes to issues related to social justice and closing the wealth gap. “We can all do better,” he said.
When asked if he could have a future with Pepsi’s sports drink Gatorade, a seemingly natural fit, LeBron doesn’t rule it out.
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” he laughed. “Of course we want to start with baby steps – crawl before you walk. We’re in a good place now and we’ll see what the future opportunities are that suit us best,” he said.
Gatorade famously taunted and then apologized to James for a 2014 tweet that read, “The person who had cramps was not our client. Our athletes can take the fire,” after James left Game 1 of the NBA Finals due to cramps in the legs.
James signed this endorsement agreement amid the pandemic and an NBA season with strict protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“I’ve never had the chance to meet anyone in person and that’s because of the season where we’re stuck in our hotel rooms,” he said. “I look forward to the opportunity to meet the CEO and meet all the great people at Pepsi.”
He has been involved on the creative side via Zoom calls and email.
“Because my name is attached to it, if you do something that means something to you and it touches you — you definitely want to be involved,” he said.
With seemingly endless energy, the Lakers star said it’s his family and the kids at Promise School who give him the energy to get out of bed every morning and push him to get better.
“They need that motivation. They need that person who gets up every day who wants to be better and be bigger, who wants to challenge things that other people don’t want to challenge,” he said.
Still, James said even he has lazy days.
“There are weeks, there are days, there are months where I am a little short on energy because how hard I work, how hard I go and how hard I strive to be the best at what I do. So every little kickstart from a drink, a person or from music – I try to take full advantage of it.”
Getting King James on board is a big win for Pepsi, according to marketing executives.
“It’s iconic,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising. “He will definitely help move the product and on the PR side it looks pretty cool that they stole it from Coke.”
And if you’re wondering about my daughter – possibly the youngest fan of Mtn Dew Rise – yes, the potion works. She was bouncing against the walls until midnight.