Late last month, basketball icon Kobe Bryant lost his life in a helicopter crash, along with that of his daughter and seven others. To say the news sent shockwaves around the world would be an understatement. There was an immense outpouring of grief — from fans, colleagues, movie stars, presidents, musicians, and even brands.
Over the course of his flourishing career, Kobe had been the face of multiple high-profile brands, and this was the case even after his retirement from the NBA. It’s no wonder then, that the brands he endorsed (and even those he didn’t) paid tribute to him in more ways than one. The first that comes to mind is a world-renowned sportswear brand that Kobe endorsed for years — in fact, they were almost synonymous to each other.
Post the news of his untimely death, all of the brand’s Kobe-related merchandise sold out almost immediately. Any search on the website for the same redirected users to a heartfelt message, where they called Kobe a ‘beloved member of the family’ and extended condolences to those impacted. Notably, the message didn’t make any mention of the brand’s latest sneaker design called Kobe V Protro Chaos.
And it didn’t end there. At a New York Fashion Week event, the brand once again honored its fallen sponsor with six young athletes who appeared wearing Lakers jerseys with Bryant’s former numbers.
Why is this response important? Well, because, in today’s day and age, consumers aren’t interested in brands that are only looking to make money. Authenticity, empathy, and a conscience are more important than ever. And to see a multi-billion dollar brand, put aside business, profit, and sales, in order to grieve, is a true example of how businesses should respond under such tragic circumstances. A true example of how a brand can connect with empathy.
Many other companies that Kobe endorsed also put forth statements of solidarity, sharing their emotions with their customers. What’s more, one of the world’s biggest advertising events, the SuperBowl, was also impacted. A number of big brands — ranging from F&B to skincare — postponed their ad reveals in the wake of Bryant’s death.
Again, this just goes to show that brands now must respond to tragedy with nuance, measure, and tact. Often, a hasty social media post, even with the best intention, might backfire, or seem phoney. It’s important then, to put aside profit, be real, and share in the human experience. That’s what a brand with soul would do.
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