Tag Archives: basketball

When Advertising Just Makes You Angry

When you work in advertising, you mostly become numb to advertising. Occasionally you are awed of great executions and seldom something makes your blood boil. There are two reasons when advertising makes you angry:

  • The execution is so shitty, that it is disgrace to our whole profession.
  • The product is immoral and the whole belief behind it is faulty and harmful.

This ad falls into latter category.


Kids should play and not drink brain-enhancing snake oil. This advertising underlines what is wrong with the education at the moment. The idea of success is really narrow-minded, only celebrating white-collar specialists. When you prepare your whole life to be a banker, it is highly doubtful that you will suddenly become Steve Jobs. It is also sad that only occupations in the list are really boring ones. What kind of sadist wants their children to become IT manager or accountant? Children should dream of becoming astronauts instead of dentists, for goodness sake. For kids to practice sports and participate in cultural events would be way more helpful than the strenuous tuition and placebo drugs.

I spent my childhood and early teens (what the hell; pretty much whole my life) listening to hiphop and playing basketball. That did not prevent me to get in to good university, graduate and become “respectable” contributor to society. I did not need to take performance-enhancing study drugs to achieve this and I doubt anyone else really needs either. Although my background on paper looks the typical business school born and bred planner, I have found all the extra-curriculum activities being much more helpful in my career than my actual studies. And I truly focused on my extra-curriculum activities. But I work in advertising, which hardly constitutes as a real work. At least it is not as desirable job as engineer to put to your Omega-3 oil advertisement.

Learning things by heart is easy and therefore excelling in school does not require extraordinary talent. When we force our children to conform early on, they will never regain their curiosity. Without curiosity there is no new ideas and without them there is eventually no growth in society. When there is only one right and very narrow view of success, we will just grow a generation of dull robots.

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The Rest I Have Learned About Business is From Basketball


Everything I have learned about business, I have learned in basketball court (with some additional help from Wu-Tang Clan). Whether it has been great (or usually horrible) leadership, importance of the team or the value of hard work. This recent incident is a good proof of that:

Detroit Pistons waived their highest paid player and star Josh Smith at the end of December. Waiving is not a little feat, because waived player is included in team salary. The results have been interesting: Pistons has been on a 8-1 winning run only losing to the hottest team in NBA right now: Atlanta Hawks. Interestingly Josh Smith has been good with his new team Houston Rockets as well, so currently it has been win-win for both the of the participants. What can be learned from this whole episode?

1.Don´t play safe: bold moves will be remembered
Sometimes you have to wake up your whole team with dramatic actions. Stan Van Gundy is not just a coach for Detroit Pistons; he is also their president of basketball operations. Waiving Josh Smith was a demonstration of his power and also a dramatic call for their team to wake up. Was it exactly wise is an another question. He had to do something to catch attention of the team. Off-the court jury is still out for Van Gundy´s strategic perspective but on the court his defensive instructions on the video below have strategic clarity that only a few business leaders (or even coaches) have:

2.Even a bad plan is better than no plan
You cannot totally fault bad Pistons season start on Josh Smith and to say so is ludicrous. They did not have proper plan in the place for the team when he was there. Josh Smith had to play a role that did not suit his skills set. When he was waived from the team, Detroit Pistons was forced to have a different game plan and missing one key player made putting a coherent plan into action much easier.

3.Take the responsibility: You either sink or swim
You can never underestimate the importance of mental aspect of sports or business. You need to feel that you are contributing to the team. Because Josh Smith was gone, the rest of the team had to rise up. Other option would have been to tank. The season is now on halfway, so the newly established Pistons can still be a boom or bust. Currently it seems that they have regained their self-esteem and if they continue like this can even make it to the play-offs.

4.Failure is an opportunity to reborn
I like Josh Smith as a player, when he is playing right role. No one denies the physical talent he has, but his attitude to the game has been a question. He has showed maturity by asking to come out of bench with Rockets. Being waived is definitely a slap in the face and you definitely want to show that you still have the skills to be a great player.

5.Team can be more (or less) than its parts
Basketball and advertising industry are similar in a way that you can fill your company or team with stars and still suck. Chemistry plays crucial role. Josh Smith is playing in Houston with his longtime friend Dwight Howard, which probably will be a good thing. Sometimes there can be only one rooster in the coop and if there are too many stars fighting for the attention the end results can be disastrous. Many combinations can work on the paper, but if it does not work on the court it does not really matter. Therefore crazy-sounding ideas like waiving your star player can actually make sense on the long run.

How the episode will pan out, we will see at the end of the season. Currently it seems that everyone seems happy with the end result.

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Anatomy of An Insight: The Hoop

Mulberry has done the best Christmas ad as it strikes just the right chord with its take on the Christmas materialism. More on a tearjerker side, this ad really made me emotional. Either it is because of my eternal love of basketball, reminiscing my grandfather building me a basketball backboard or thinking about my goddaughter getting older; this ad from Dick´s Sporting Goods really lifted my holiday spirit.

Insight: Best gifts might change your life, both for the giver and receiver.

I remember when I got my first proper running shoes (Nike, of course), Snoop´s first album, first great dinner in proper fine-dining restaurant or a 10-time card for hot yoga. These gifts nudged me to certain direction in life and also strengthened the passion I have for the best things in life (sports, hiphop, food). I am eternally grateful for those gifts. They are also great demonstration on how things make you happy. If they don´t, you just are not getting the right things.

In this ad, the hoop serves as a metaphor for the relationship of father and daughter and how basketball is the glue between them. Right gift at the right time can help to retain the relationship and also elevate it to the next level.

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Kobe Bryant, Just a Prime Example of Modern Highly Skilled Professional

“You want me to own team and deal with these rich, spoiled stubborn athletes, and try to get them perform? No thank you”
-Kobe Bryant

This NBA season has been really interesting thus far. Many of my favorite teams (i.e. Memphis Grizzlies) and players (i.e. DeMarcus Cousins) have really stepped up their game. There has been some disappointments as well (i.e. I expected Lance Stephenson to make a jump to the next level) and the biggest low-point of them all has been my all-time favorite team:

Los Angeles Lakers

The team has been completely dysfunctional. Superstar Kobe Bryant has been making a great comeback from points-perspective, but does not really trust anyone in the team. They are likely to tank really bad and that it is something as a fan I feel sad about. On the other hand I have high respect for Kobe Bryant: 5 championships do not come without extraordinary work ethic. Although he is totally on different pay range than any of us, he is still an epitome of skilled professional. Here are some lessons we can learn from him:

1.Know your value
“I like playing for the purple and gold. This is where I want to finish up”
There has been lots of talk about Kobe´s big contract and how selfish that has been. I do not really understand the criticism. Kobe is the star worker for the organization who makes millions out of his work. In normal business it is appreciated when people spend their whole career in same company. In NBA, we want the players to jump ship whenever their team is not playing well. So Kobe is loyal to the organization and it is likely that he will end his career as a Laker-for-life. Lebron has been already in two teams. On the other hand he is not stupid either. It does not pay to be loyal to a company that does not treat you well. Currently Lakers have no prospect for championship, so who can really fault Bryant for maximizing his contract?
Same rule applies for professionals: it is worthwhile to stay in organization provided that they appreciate you and compensate you evenly.

2. Understand what business you are in.
“These young guys are playing checkers. I´m out there playing chess”
Winning is one aspect of being successful NBA team. Lakers had an awful season last year and were playing without Kobe. Still, guess who was the most profitable team in NBA? Although from a sports perspective this season will be even more horrible, it might actually be more lucrative from business side. The audience wants to see Kobe both at home and on other markets. They cheer for him and want to see one of the greatest of all time do his thing. Lakers might not win, but they are hell lot more entertaining when Kobe is on board. It is also not a coincidence that Jeremy Lin was signed to largest Asian-American market in USA. NBA is show business. Besides dunks, passes and rebounds the game is also about TV rights, shirt sales and sponsorship deals. The value of superstars for the companies goes beyond their tangible contributions.

3.You have to find the motivation somewhere.
I don´t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant”
If you can´t win the championship, you have to motivate yourself in someway. So again, I am not faulting Kobe for being obsessed on passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. Mike is the greatest player ever; surpassing him, regardless how many shots it will take, is not a mean feat. Same thing with companies: if your organization is not doing that well, you have to find your enjoyment somewhere. Whether it is new project, mentoring or maximizing your bonus. If there is nothing motivating you at the workplace, it is time switch teams.

4.Ignore that you are likely overrated
“The only thing I am afraid is bees. I don´t like bees. I´m allergic to them”
We always inflate the value of super stars. Total denial of any stint in perfection is also a characteristic for the superstars. Kobe makes lots of points, but he takes and misses lots of shots as well. He has high usage, but low efficiency. Actually Lakers are more effective when Kobe is off court according to the stats. I still don´t doubt at a moment that Kobe believes genuinely that the only sensible way to help his team is to shoot more. Quite often we cannot recognize our own weak spots and have too rosy picture about our own skills. We also underestimate the role of luck in our success.

Where many others have retired, Kobe (aged 36) is still playing 30 minutes every day, getting paid really well, getting crowds excited and maybe winning scoring title this year.

I´d surely like to be on that level when I would be close to retirement.

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Behind Every Brilliant Brand, There is A Brilliant Person

“When you have found a good client, do not let her go even if she switches a company”

This advice struck me early in my advertising career. Every time I meet a person who impresses me, I make a mental note to follow her career and to keep in touch (at least add as a LinkedIn contact). Mainly it is to test my judgment of people and you never know when your paths cross again. Generally it is also more pleasant to work with brilliant people than mediocre ones.

Great people tend to do great things whenever they are. They make strong brands stronger and can uplift the more tepid ones. If you have a strong brand, the occasional assholes cannot generally ruin the legacy. The rotten apples can permanently damage the weaker brands.

Advertising business is a people business. Being happy and successful in your work is relatively easy if you follow the following five steps:

  1. Maximize the amount of time spend with brilliant people.
  2. Minimize the time spent with idiots, bullies and psychopaths (unless latter ones are really brilliant).
  3. Stay in touch with the great people you have met during your career.
  4. Avoid the horrible people you have met during your career.
  5. Constantly meet new people. It is like shooting in basketball: The more you meet new people, the more opportunities you have to meet great people as well.

Your success seldom is about what you know but whom you know and with whom you have the opportunity to work with.

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Anatomy of An Insight: Horse With Harden


NBA season is starting soon and it will be super interesting.
Kobe and Derek Rose are back and Lebron is back in Cleveland.
From advertising perspective I have really enjoyed the James Harden & Foot Locker collaboration, which has resulted in many entertaining ads like “Short Memory”-series:

Charles Barkley is the greatest player ever and the most funniest commentator as well:

Pt.2 shows that sequels don´t ever work in Internet:

However, one of the more innovative campaigns was James Harden playing HORSE with Interwebs:

Insight: It is the age of YouTube celebrities. With enough time, you are able to do a trick shot that even the best NBA players cannot nail in one go. Opportunity to flex your special shot against James Harden is just too tempting.

It is always tricky for a brand to get people to engage to their competitions. When you can provide exposure and fame to the participant, the devoted fans will deliver. When you have people investing their time and putting their best effort to the campaign it will become interesting content for those who just want to consume the entertainment.

I have to say I like James Harden more as an advertising person than player, because this Beard Guru ad for NBA 2K15 is hilarious as well:

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Modern Marketing: Are You Throwing Javelin or Shooting Hoops?

I might be biased as a Fin, but javelin throw is the most entertaining track & field sports ever. However, what makes good spectator sports is not necessarily good way to do marketing. Many companies are still stuck in the old ways of doing marketing, which painstakingly resemble the Finnish national sport:

Javelin Throw: Traditional Marketing

Seppo Räty, the best Javelin dude in the world

Seppo Räty, the epitome of no-frills javelin thrower

– Fixed amount of trials: In javelin you get six trials to prove that you are worthy. In traditional marketing you do couple of campaigns a year.
– Individual: You only worry about your own performance.
– No room for improvisation: You do what you have practiced and try to duplicate your practice performance. If things start to go sidetrack, it is hard to make changes in competitive situation. Same with big marketing campaigns, when they veer off-the-track you cannot really save them. When javelin is released, you can only hope for it to be a good throw.
– Make it or break it –situation: You either make the throw or not. Your bi-annual campaign is either hit or not. Success of the whole year is judged based on that single try.

Basketball: Modern marketing

In your face

This dunk is one of the many baskets done on the single game.

– No limit on trials, but limited amount of time: Trials depend on your opportunities you get during the game. The best players seize the good opportunities, but occasionally take bad opportunities as well.
– Collaborative: The success is not only based on the individual, but on how well your team is playing and also the level of your opponent.
– Room for improvisation: Practice is important and creates the core of what you do well. Your core skills also contribute to the average probability of succeeding (among other things). That is why it is important to invent as you go along. Success is about talent, hard work & many trials. More you try, the luckier you get.
– End-result matters: Individual throw can go in or not. Only thing that matters by the end of the day is the total amount of shots you got in and have they contributed to your team win. Some shots are more important than others though. One of the most important skills nowadays is the skill to recognize those important shot opportunities and seize them.

If we want to succeed in this changing world, it is not sufficient to improve our technique in the existing game. We have to totally change the sports we are in.

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The Illusion of Hot Hand

I have been playing basketball nearly all my life. I also play in two teams here in Singapore and the quality of the basketball league and how good it has been organized, has been really positive surprise. Not that positive surprise has been my shooting game, which has been uneven to say at least.

I have not had “a hot hand”, like they say.

One of the common beliefs in basketball involves streak shooting: if you have made your last shot you are more likely to make your next shot. Those who have played NBA Jam in nineties, remember that the player was “on fire” after three straight shoots.

This “hot hand” is purely a myth.

Good last shot does not predict your next shot in any way. Actually you might be more likely to miss it. Numerous studies prove this point. Amos Tversky and Thomas Gilovich went through years of NBA team Philadelphia 76ers statistics. The conclusion: Every field goal attempt was its own independent event. Jay Koehler and Caryn Conley got the same result by observing NBA three-point shooting contest.

Ok, now I know the facts. Do I believe in hot hand?

You bet, I do.
(Like actually 91% of serious NBA fans)

“Hot hand” is not based on actual statistics. It is in your mind. When you have the feeling that you are “on fire”, you tend to play better. Because simple truth in basketball is: the more you shoot, the more you tend to score. Average field goal percentage in NBA is little bit below 30%. That means that even the best players in the world miss about two out of every three shots. You need to have the illusion of “hot hand” to keep yourself positive when missing all those shots.

Winning streaks do not limit only to basketball and other sports.

People try to find patterns in random events where they do not exist. I have heard from numerous ad people that when you start losing pitches they always come in three. The reality is that every pitch is its own independent event. If you feel that you are on the roll, the setbacks feel just random mishaps. And if you feel that you have “cold hand”, every loss fulfills your prophecy of losing streak. So to succeed in business, it is important to try to be in state of streak shooter and then go with that emotion. And when you encounter losses you have to remind your rational self about the statistics and just try again.

There is not anything wrong to believe in “hot hand”, just do not fall into superstition when you are not “on fire.”

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