How do you say goodbye to a basketball icon when you’re the biggest shoe company in the world?

Mamba Day

4/13 — NIKE + Kobe Bryant = Mamba Day

How do you say goodbye to a basketball icon when you’re the biggest shoe company in the world? You create an entire day out of it and completely take over the social space, of course.

Such was the impressive #MambaDay takeover by Nike on April 13, 2016, when Kobe Bryant—or The Black Mamba as he affectionately nicknamed himself—played his last game for the Los Angeles Lakers.

If you’re not up to speed on your sports megastars, Kobe Bryant is a global force whose brand is backed by millions of fans loyally amplifying his every word, video, or photo—and that’s without the help of Nike who signed Kobe Bryant to lucrative shoe deals over the years.

The significance of Kobe’s final game, thus, created the perfect conditions for a mega brand like Nike to show off its marketing prowess in a way that incorporated a multi-platform approach on social, to content that ran on national TV.

Nike did not disappoint. They brought out their full arsenal of athletes to amplify #MambaDay, starting with a tribute video from some of the major sports figures under the Nike roster like Russell Wilson, Kyrie Irving, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Odell Beckham Jr., Neymar Jr , Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and more.

#MambaDay Hashflag

Not only was this effort baptized with #MambaDay as the official campaign hashtag, a custom hashflag was also coordinated in order to encourage hashtag use on Twitter.

Nike could have opted for something more Kobe-like for the icon—like maybe a tiny version of Kobe shooting, or Kobe’s jersey—but smartly, they opted to just go with Kobe’s shoe: the actual business objective driver.

Understanding your audience is a major component of any successful marketing campaign, and, in this case, the hashtag alone set Nike up for success as Kobe loyalists (and haters) would have used it in their own way regardless. By appending a product to the hashtag, Nike generated awareness of a product launch that could potentially lead to sales. #ROI

This approach won’t necessarily work for all sports figures, however. I wouldn’t advise every sports brand to invest in a product hashflag and expect the same level of success, after all, Kobe is Kobe and very few athletes ever reach the stratosphere of megastardom.

Diversifying Potential for Success

The tribute video and the custom hashflag were merely the beginning, however. Nike smartly leveraged its star power and coupled it with the massive popularity of Kobe Bryant by creating points of access for easy UGC creation that tied into #MambaDay.

Snapchat Filter

If you’re part of the new wave of humans that only communicate via ephemeral mediums like Snapchat, Nike had you covered. Fans were given the option of using a branded #MambaDay filter with a golden swoosh and a black and grey overlay style mimicking the Kobe 11 Mamba Day ID shoe.

Poster Generator

Nike also launched a mobile app that fans could use to create a stylized message using their own words and photos to reflect messages posted by other sports superstars.

Athletes like FC Barcelona’s Neymar Jr. (22.4M followers on Twitter) and Pau Gasol shared versions of the posters through their own Twitter feed, using a word that symbolized Kobe Bryant’s stellar and inspiring career.

Even Paul Gasol—a long time teammate and friend of Kobe Bryant, and an athlete with “only” 3.5M followers on Twitter—generated significant retweets and favorites merely by tweeting out a branded poster in honor of #MambaDay.

As fans saw the branded posters trickling into their timelines, they took to making their own to honor or ironically honor the figure of the day. Nike even led the way in acknowledging the divisive nature of Kobe Bryant:

Fans got into the action, posting their own version of this poster with positive and ironic posters. Either way, Nike was getting marketing points out of every poster shared on social.

Custom Apparel and Star Power

Most brands would have been ecstatic with a custom hashflag or a tribute video, but Nike is Nike for a reason, and they continued to up the ante by customizing shoes and equipment members of their roster that would then turn into additional branded content for #MambaDay.

From the tennis elite like Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, to baseball superstars like Mike Trout and Matt Kemp, as well as golf pros, Nike created customized equipment to be used in action and made sure content was posted from their accounts.

Not only did these endorsements of #MambaDay come with the potential of millions of eyes when you add up all of the participating stars’ followers, it created a union between social media and real life that’s not very common. Superstar athletes like Nadal don’t usually play in other players’ shoes, and especially in shoes that represent an athlete from another sport. It really is impressive that Nike was able to coordinate this incredible effort.

Nike’s branded version
Gloves for Matt Kemp

The Conductor

The icing on the content cake that was #MambaDay was a video that was released nationally on TV, as well as through social media that spread like wildfire, especially in NBA Twitter circles.

Tapping into the truthiest of truth, a spot called “The Conductor” captured the essence of Kobe Bryant’s NBA career. While Nike could have gone in many directions celebrating a distinguished NBA career, and in doing so garnered a wildly successful number of shares and comments from the pro-Kobe/Lakers camp, they opted for an unconventional approach that in the end seemed perfect.

See, Kobe Bryant, while full of talent, accolades, and statistical records, was one of the most divisive NBA figures of all time. As a fan you either loved Kobe Bryant or you loved to hate Kobe Bryant. There was almost no in-between and Kobe reveled in that truth through the end of his career.

So it was, that when I saw the following video, it perfectly encapsulated the story of Kobe Bryant and regardless of how I felt about him, it made me want to share it with my friends, thereby increasing its organic reach: the goal of every marketing campaign.

Had Nike gone with the obvious montage honoring a retiring superstar, only a portion of fans would have taken this piece of content and ran with it. The beauty was that Nike found a truth so deep that it worked for both sides: those that loved him and those that didn’t but respected him.

(Oh yeah, if you’re not familiar with Otis Redding, you might want to give this a quick listen before you play this video. It will enrich your experience.)

A perfect ending to a perfect ending: “The Conductor”


If you’re not yet impressed by this holistic approach to owning a day in April, the following impressive results were posted to give some backing to the fact that this campaign made sense in all its content aspects.

100% sell-through of the Kobe 11 Mamba Day shoe

2.87 Million uses of #MambaDay

45 Million views of The Conductor (video) on a Global Level

400,000 Mamba Day Generator posters

These stats may even be higher given that this post is a little delayed on my part. It would be great to get a comprehensive look at the overall success metrics, but, for what it’s worth, what I recall from 4/13 as a sports fan is that #MambaDay was indeed a real thing that took over Twitter all day.

Whether Nike put money behind promoted tweets or not, the content struck the right chord for its audiences as writers, bloggers, NBA and sports fans all took the content and ran with it all day long. Bravo to Nike for creating an impressively orchestrated and sophisticated campaign that wasn’t overshadowed by the evident brand and marketing nature behind it. It had just the right amount of marketing while still allowing placing the athlete, the sport, or the fan at the center. Well done.

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