An Up & Down PR Journey for the Big Baller Brand

Bret Werner, President, MWWPR

All press is good press, right, LaVar? Not so fast …

There is an adage in public relations when it comes to measuring coverage and the long coveted “impression”: Impressions indicate activity, but they do not indicate impact. LaVar and Lonzo Ball’s Big Baller Brand has generated billions of media impressions, as there has been a ton of activity in earned and social media. But has all this coverage and engagement generated impact? One could argue yes, but not the impact the fledgling brand and its marketers would have hoped for leading up to the NBA Draft, Thursday night.

To discern the impact of any effort you must look at multiple sets analytics, which is what MWWPR and NetBase have been doing since early April regarding the Big Baller Brand, Lonzo, and his infamous father, LaVar.

Until recently, according to MWWPR’s proprietary analysis (follow the live conversation here), the only consistent positive sentiment that the brand generated was from April 30 to May 8. The launch of the shoe, May 4, falls right into this timeline, but any positive momentum, was quickly squashed. Once the shoe and the $495 price tag was announced, they immediately met resistance from established personal brands like Shaquille O’Neal, who is very popular with the audience one would think BBB is or should be targeting.


The brand’s net sentiment has averaged -10% with a Passion Intensity score of 40%. For context, on April 19 the net sentiment for the brand was 92%. The VERY NEXT DAY, it was -82%. Words and phrases like “Do Not Buy,” “Hate,” and even “Love” capture the rollercoaster ride they have been on so far. LaVar has claimed the brand is worth $3 Billion, while Nice Kicks reports they have only sold about 300 pairs of shoes, equating to about $150K in revenue. LaVar claims they have sold 5,000 pairs.

What MWWPR has noticed monitoring the brand’s social universe and the conversation surrounding the Big Baller AND Ball Brand is that there has been a significant shift in strategy as we arrive at the eve of the NBA Draft. Various NBA trades and an ESPN Sports Science segment where Lonzo showcased how he could thread a pass through the window of a Cadillac car moving 10 mph helped his net sentiment reach its top score, moving attention toward draft position, rather than shoes, which should have been the initial strategy. A Footlocker Father’s Day commercial showcasing more of his personality was well received by the public and certainly aided in a rise in positive sentiment.

What Dad has done can easily be criticized, but his actions recently could also turn out to be marketing gold. Whether it was calculated and a strategy deployed intended to generate the results it has received is debatable … Has LaVar cut off Lonzo’s nose despite his equitable-brand-face before he even plays in a pre-season game? It’s a gamble: Launch your own socio-economic-polarizing brand and if he’s good, things could go great. Struggle on the court, and it could be a very short brand-building effort.

Consumers, analysts, alike have weighed in heavily on the differentiating approach Dad has taken. The risk of making big pronouncements puts a bigger potential – and unnecessary – target on your back. In effect, creating your own reputational crisis should the brand or the player not succeed. It’s a risk that could be easily avoided, but the more attention on the way up, means more attention should you fall.

According to social analytics, there isn’t even a clear target. When you look at traditional demographic age groups, less than 13% of those participating in the Big Baller Brand conversation are 18-and-under, seemingly a priority target for the brand is less-than-engaged.

The question is, does a company want an employee like LaVar Ball driving brand perception and negative connotations before the athlete’s performance on the court has had a chance to make the sale? The Ball family story is a unique blend of brand building, product launch, crisis preparation and management and not in the order that more experienced marketers may have recommended. Time will tell, but the road has been a bumpy one for the ZO2 thus far. A lot of self-promotion, a ton of engagement, a lot of impressions, a lot of activity, and questionable impact illustrates that not all press is good press, and certainly not effective.

The future is unknown and the storyline of the next 48 hours will set the stage for an intriguing “Big Baller” case study.