NBA Jam Gets Social

by December 10, 2010

by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack

The year 2010 has been a memorable year for basketball fans in so many ways. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics staged a classic seven-game Finals. The Team USA men’s squad won gold medal at the World Championships for the first time since 1994. LeBron took his talents to South Beach. And for video game fans, EA Sports’ NBA Jam made its long-awaited sequel.

The game’s first launch in 1993 captured the imagination of anyone who played it. Legendary quotes like “Boomshakalaka!” and “He’s On Fire!” — made famous by NBA Dwight HowardJam’s original voice, Tim Kitzrow — became entrenched in basketball lexicon forever.

As popular as the original NBA Jam was — the arcade version generated more than $1 billion, and the home edition sold more than 6 million copies — EA Sports faced a challenge in re-introducing the game.

“We were trying to hit two demographics [in marketing the game],” said Jeff Sharma, marketing product manager for NBA Jam. “Those who grew up playing Jam and the new generation who didn’t grow up having a chance to play the game.”

Social media served as an optimal platform for hitting both demographics, specifically with the newer generation. They used Facebook to promote a campaign in which fans could submit their favorite “Jamism” saying — “The monster jam!” is another older one — into a bracket tournament of 64. Over 3,000 entries were received, and Kitzrow recorded the 64 which were selected, so that voters could hear each of them before choosing their preferred line. The top four made their way into the game. That was just the beginning of EA’s dip into social media.

They ran a Twitter campaign in which they had a promoted Twitter trend, on November 18. Fans again submitted their favorite Jamisms, and Kitzrow recorded the top ones that were selected. His lines were recorded over video clips of the game, which EA re-tweeted back to users, with links to the clips on YouTube. They made 188 videos, which garnered over 160,000 views and over 66.3 million impressions.

“The fact that many people can see your brand and have an opportunity to interact with it is invaluable,” Sharma said.

And to extend their reach with a younger crowd, EA Sports lined up several young NBA stars to promote the game on various platforms. Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings promoted the game through their Twitter accounts. EA liked that each player brought name recognition and regular social media interaction to the table. Then there was the big man.

Dwight Howard has a presence and charisma that few other athletes possess. So, EA featured him in a Facebook video in which he played a Jam on an arcade system against fans on a street in New York City. Howard’s interaction with fans was everything EA hoped it would be. “In terms of a human embodiment of a Jam character, he’s it,” Sharma said. Bigger than life, huge personality, tons of fun. Him working with the game made a lot of sense.”

EA also veered slightly off the social media path in order to highlight the comedic aspect of Jam. They went to the website to post a video in which an uncle competes against his nephew in various video games. He loses every one they play until the uncle gets to rekindle his old Jam magic on the title’s new edition. “We felt like Jam has this spirit of humor involved in it,” Sharma noted. With its approximately 1.7 million Twitter followers, 600,000 Facebook fans and youthful fan base, the website gave EA Sports value on an off-beat platform for a video game.

There’s still more to come. Sharma hinted there will be social media promotions in 2011, as well as additional unlockable characters. Among those who have been unveiled are eight notable politicians: Senator John McCain and his former Presidential campaign running mate Sarah Palin, former President George Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney, former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama.

It’s not likely that the basketball-loving President will get to play the game, though. “We’ve thought about that, but we haven’t explored our options beyond that,” Sharma said. “[But] we made sure he shoots left-handed in the game.”