Model Texts by Student Authors
The Advertising Black Hole119
The little girl walked along the brightly lit paths of vibrant colors and enticing patterns. Her close friends watched her as she slowly strolled by. She made sure to inspect each one of them as she moved through the pathways, seeing if there was anything new about them, and wondering which one she was interested in bringing home. She did not know, however, that these so-called friends of hers had the potential to be dangerous and possibly deadly if she spent too much time with them. But she was not aware, so she picked up the colorful box of cereal with her friend Toucan Sam on the outside, put it in the cart and decided that he was her top choice that day. Many children have similar experiences while grocery shopping because numerous large corporations thrive on developing relationships between the young consumer and their products; a regular food item can become so much more than that to children. Due to the bonds that children and products are forming together, early-life weight issues have become an increasingly large issue. While marketing is not the leading or only cause of the obesity epidemic affecting children and teenagers, it does aid in developing and endorsing preferences of unhealthier food options sold in grocery stores, which can lead to higher weights if not controlled.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that up to 17% of children and adolescents, from ages zero to seventeen, are overweight in the United States. This comes out to approximately 12.7 million young individuals who are affected by the obesity epidemic (“Childhood Obesity”), and there is no projection of this number getting smaller any time soon, as the general population continues to increase. Without any significant changes with how food products are marketed to children and its influence on their food choices, one might predict that there will most likely not be a decline in obesity in kids and teens as populations continue to rise.
Today, large corporations like Oreo, Trix, and Yoplait, amongst others, spend great sums of money marketing to younger generations in hopes that they will want their products and, more importantly, grow an attachment to them. In 2009 alone, companies spent about $1.79 billion on the endeavor (“FTC Releases”). Leading businesses in the food industry spend a lot of money on advertising so that they can establish an emotional connection between their products and fledgling consumers. They try to inspire feelings of familiarity, comfort, "coolness," adventure, warmth, excitement, and many others that will attract kids and teenagers.
Through trials and studies, leading advertising agencies have found what types of pictures, words, and designs resonate the most with the younger audiences. It is not about selling a product, but creating an experience of joy and wonder for the child. While younger children especially are not aware of the premeditated enticements from the corporate end, they can still become highly engrossed in the products. Some research has shown that a child's attraction to certain brand characteristics may actually be out of their conscious control (Keller 380).
Young children pick up on things very easily, whether something is specifically taught to them or not, and food preferences are no different. Toddlers as early as two or three can be affected by advertising (McGinnis 376) and can develop bonds to certain products. This shows that even without outside pressures from society or a knowledge of advertising, children can bond with food items just like they do people. This makes sense, as brands are created to be as relatable and welcoming as possible, just like a human being.
With this in mind, developing a specific personality for a brand is extremely important. Many advertising authorities believe that without a brand personality that a company would have an extremely hard time standing out from the crowd. In “Brand Personalities Are Like Snowflakes,” David Aaker, a well-known expert in his field, gives examples of large corporations that use branding to bring a likeability or specific personality type to the business in order to identify with certain groups of people, or to have a larger mass appeal. For example, Betty Crocker comes across as motherly, traditional, and “all-American” (Aaker 20). It makes sense why children and adolescents would develop a fondness for a product that seems homey and loving. If a company succeeds in gaining the interest of a child and creating an emotional connection with them, then it is not impossible or unusual that the individual could stay a brand loyalist into adulthood. But with unhealthy food companies being the source of some of the most intelligent marketing techniques, it is easy for them to entice children to eat foods that are not good for them, all the while making them feel content about their choices.
Once a company comes up with a good branding technique or personality, they can start marketing their products, and the avenues in which companies share them is almost as important as the products themselves. In order for the item to become popular and generate high revenue, they need to reach as many people as possible. If the wrong methods are chosen and there is less of a consumer response, then money has been wasted. While marketing food to children has been very successful in the past, it is even more so now in the 21st century because of the prevalence of mobile devices. Kids and teens are very frequently exposed to advertising through websites, games, or applications that they are using on cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Corporations even collect meta-data from sites or applications that kids access on the device in order to figure out what their preferences are, and to further expose them to ads within their frame of interest, hopefully boosting their sales and likeability through repeated exposure (“Should Advertising”). Television has not been phased out by the internet, however, and it is still a huge contributor to advertising success, accounting for almost half of marketing costs (Harris 409). Movies, magazines and other print sources, sporting events, schools, displays in grocery stores, the boxes themselves, and many other routes are taken in order to create as much of a product “buzz” as possible.
Within these avenues, there are countless techniques that are used in order to gently sway a child or adolescent into wanting a product. Some of these methods are direct, but others are hardly recognizable. I decided to do a little investigating of my own at Fred Meyer’s, one of the leading supermarkets in the Portland area, and found many trends and practices that were used to promote kids’ food. One of the main techniques used is called cross-branding. Also called cross-promoting, this is where a specific product, like cereal for example, will sign an agreement with another company so that they can use each other’s popularity in order to sell more merchandise. The picture shown is a perfect example of this. Kellogg’s teamed up with Disney and Pixar in order to create a one-of-a-kind Finding Dory cereal. This example is actually different than most of the cross-promoting cereals or products, because this is a whole new item made just for the movie; it is not just a picture on a box for a cereal that had already existed. Both companies will come out ahead in this case, since Finding Dory is beloved by children and so will bring revenue to both. Celebrity and sports endorsements are other forms of cross-branding, since they are promoting themselves and the product at the same time. While cartoon characters may be better suited for younger kids, movie and television stars, singers, and athletes help to drawn in the pre-teen and teenage crowds.
Other identified advertising tools from the packages themselves might include sweepstakes to win prizes, toys inside, free games or applications with purchase, and collecting UPC codes for gifts. The picture shown to the right is another example from my personal research, which shows a Go-Gurt box. It not only shows cross-branding with the movie Trolls, but it also includes something for free. The top right-hand corner displays that inside of the box there is a special link for a free Trolls Spotify playlist. Prizes that used to be included with purchased goods before the onset of the internet were typically toys, stickers, puzzles, or physical games, whereas they are now mostly songs, videos, digital games, or free applications which generally include either the company’s branding mascot or the cross-promotion character they are using at the time. As a child, I remember that getting free gifts was a huge incentive for me to ask my parents for something at the store, and can vouch for how strong of an effect this can have on a kid’s mind.
Not all tactics to gain consumer interests are as noticeable though, yet still appear to have positive effects on children. Bright colors, boldness of design, cartoon mascots, and catch phrases are all part of the overall enjoyable experience that corporations try to create for young customers. The location of the product on the shelves is also important. Most children’s products are kept on bottom shelves, especially in aisles of grocery stores where adult and child products are mixed. This way the items are in their direct line of sight and reach, creating a higher probability for purchase. Another method that is not so heavily researched, but is extremely convincing, comes from “Eyes in the Aisles: Why is Cap’n Crunch Looking Down at My Child?”, an article by Aviva Musicus and other scholars. This article breaks down the research study of whether eye contact with cartoon characters on cereal products creates a sense of comfort and trust, and if it affects the item’s purchase. Many cereal characters’ eyes look down (as shown), typically looking at the product that pictured on the box—but also at the smaller people perusing the aisles, like children. Researchers wanted to determine if this tactic is intentional, and if so, if it is effective in selling more product. This tactic appears to be used mostly for cereal, but I was able to find similar artistry on Danimals yogurt drinks and some fruit snacks as well. It was concluded through the study that eye-contact by a friendly face in general creates feelings of trust and friendship. In applying this to product branding, the study confirmed with many of its subjects, that a welcoming glance for a child can essentially create positive feelings that make him or her feel more connected to the product and in turn choose it over others. The findings of the study for whether or not characters are designed to make eye contact were inconclusive, however (Musicus et al. 716-724).
While the amount of money that is spent on food advertising for children seems exorbitant to most, it is not necessarily the amount of money or the advertising in itself that is the problem for many Americans; instead, it is the type of food that is being promoted with such a heavy hand. Soda, fruit snacks, donuts, cereal, granola bars, Pop-Tarts, frozen meals, sugary yogurts, cookies, snack cakes, ice cream, and popsicles are some of the most branded items for children at grocery stores. Most of the things listed are not adequate snacks or meals, and yet it is proven that children want them the most due to their appealing containers. Depending on the age of the child, they may not even know what the product is but still want it, because of the color of the package or because their favorite character is on it. Experts agree that the majority of the highly advertised and branded food products are unhealthy and that they can contribute to higher weights if consumed in too large of quantities or too often. One such expert is Kathleen Keller, along with her research partners from various universities in the United States. They have found that the most marketed food items at the grocery store are generally high in fat, sodium, and sugar, which is easily confirmed with a look in your city’s popular supermarkets. Keller also determined that children who are enticed by “good” marketing and branding for unhealthy products often keep going back for more due to the addictive nature of those three main ingredients (409).
Keller and her team also conducted three different experiments, two of which I will discuss. It is important to add that Keller is not the only one that has conducted these studies, but is being used as an example of the type of tests that have been executed in regards to branding, and the movements that have been made in the scientific field to try to help with the obesity epidemic. In the first study, Keller sought to determine whether actively watching commercials made young people eat more. She found that all of the children, regardless of age and weight, ate more food while watching advertisements about food than when they were not. Others researchers however, have had opposing viewpoints based on their collected data in similar studies, and the issue is that there are too many variables with this type of test. Age, type of food offered, advertisements watched, familiarity with the ads or characters used, and other factors all come into play and can skew the data. Some studies found that none of the children ate more while watching television advertisements about food, while others concluded that despite some children eating more, not all of them did like in Keller’s experiment. The issue with the variables are still being worked out in order to have more accurate data (Keller 380-381).
In the second trial, one test group was offered raw fruits and vegetables in containers with characters on the outside, such as Elmo, and included a sticker inside like many of the products that come with free gifts. Both groups consisted of children of different ages that regularly ate below the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, which is one to three cups a day depending on age. The kids who had containers with the characters increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables by approximately three servings from where they were before the test started, while the intake for the second group with the plain containers did not go up at all.
The most interesting part of the study is that when the experiment was over the children who were in the character test group continued on eating more fruits and vegetables despite the fact that they no longer had the original containers. This could potentially mean that once a child makes a connection with a product, that it becomes engrained in their minds and that they no longer need stickers, toys, or package designs in order to appreciate or crave a certain food. However, more testing would have to be done to confirm this (Keller 383-384). While this could be a negative thing in the context of unhealthy food product advertising, it also shows that cross-branding could be used to promote healthier alternatives. Keller’s results along with the responses of the scientists that conducted like-studies, appear to have a general consensus that while there is correlational data between advertising, branding, and obesity, it is not a direct one, which is encouraging (Breiner 5). Advertising itself does not increase obesity, but rather the products being advertised and the methods by which they are advertised.
The good news is that since advertising and branding does not have a straight link to obesity then it should be possible to prevent some occurrences from happening, either from the government and food companies themselves, or from inside the home. On the governmental side, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continue to partner up with each other, along with the leading food manufacturers, to discuss ways that companies can promote healthier eating. Some companies have already joined the fight by offering lower calorie, sugar, fat, or sodium versions of their popular foods by using whole grains or by limiting portion sizes (Wilks 66).
Another example of governmental efforts was in 2010, when Michelle Obama launched the campaign for “Facts Up Front” with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The goal of this movement was to encourage food distributors to voluntarily put nutrition information on the front of the package. The act is to encourage label reading and awareness of what is being consumed, with labels being monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that customers get accurate information (“Facts”). There are still many companies, however, that do not state their health facts on the front of the container though, and the FTC, HHS, and GMA are always pushing for more participation. As you can see in the picture I took at Fred Meyer’s, even companies that have sought action can have the same product with and without nutrition labeling sitting right next to each other on the shelves. In the photo, the nutrition label is on the bottom left of the package of Pop-Tarts in the right-hand photo, but is absent from the one on the left. It seems like this could occur if a company either began or stopped their contribution to the “Facts Up Front” movement and older stock was being sold alongside newer stock. It is possible as well that there could be inconsistent procedures in the company with packaging; however, this seems unlikely since companies would have to set up their machines to create varying products. Hopefully, as more years pass, front-labeling will become the overall standard in the marketplace.
Another governmental organization that joined in the battle against obesity is the Institute of Medicine (IOM) at the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). While the IOM does not have any direct say on what types of policies are enacted, they do conduct studies on childhood obesity and ways to prevent it, including advertising’s effects on eating patterns and weight. After they summarize their findings, they submit the information in a report to agencies like the FDA to see if they can encourage any change. In their report from 2009, they witnessed a correlation between advertising and early weight gain and acknowledged that advertising practices are not in line with healthy eating. The IOM states that food manufacturers should be more aware of what types of foods that they are advertising to children and adolescents. They do also recognize the groups that are working to make a change, like the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (which works with the food industry to try to lower caloric content of current food products), as well as the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (a non-profit that encourages advertising for nutritionally dense foods only and inspires healthy eating habits within households) (Breiner 6-9). Examples of productive advertising could be using characters on packages of carrots, apples, milk, or any other healthy items, commercials that promote health and wellness for kids, and games or applications that are directed to teach kids about nutrition. However, many experts believe that any type of advertising and branding, even if it is to influence positive food choices, becomes negative as it continues to endorse a society based on consumerism. This is just a broad overview of what type of work is being done and what major players are involved, but because of the severity of the obesity epidemic, there is much more work going on behind the scenes than what is listed here.
The government is not the only entity that can make a change, however, and modifications can possibly be made inside the home to avoid excessive marketing control on young ones and their consumption of unhealthy food products. It is important to say, though, that not everyone may be able to make certain positive changes; those who can are encouraged to do so. As stated previously, there are many factors that go into children’s eating habits. Some of the most common reasons are that unhealthier items are less expensive, and that fresh food goes bad faster, so purchasing nutritional options may not be possible for lower-income families. There is also the issue of research and education: some parents or guardians may not be well-informed of advertising’s effects on younger minds or how to serve well-rounded meals, and they may also not have a lot of access to resources that could help. It is unwise to say that all people in the United States have access to the same information, as this is just not the case.
But families that do have the means to purchase healthier products and are knowledgeable on the subjects of advertising and nutrition (or have ways learn about these subjects) are greatly encouraged to take small or big steps to implementing change at home. Some steps could be to limit time spent on mobile devices, so that kids and teens are not viewing as many advertisements each day, or to completely eliminate television viewing and the use of internet-based devices if a more extreme option was needed or wanted. If the cost of groceries is not a major issue, then encouraging the consumption of new fruits and vegetables each week is an easy place to start, as well as offering more lean proteins, healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil, and less processed starches. Probably the most crucial element is to talk to kids about consumerism: how to be a smart and mindful customer, and how to not let advertisements influence our decision-making. They can also make a point to discuss portion control, and what healthy eating means for our bodies and our longevity of life. Since children develop preferences as early as two years old, it is best to start implementing healthier eating habits and interactive conversations as early as possible—but it is never too late to start.
It is encouraging to know that companies are making changes to their policies and product ingredients, and that governmental organizations, non-profits, and families continue to strive for a healthier country. There should be better protection of our youth, but what is hindering a more drastic movement for change of advertising techniques targeted to children and adolescents is the amount of variables in studies due to age, weight, background, mental health and capacity, etc. Because of these differences amongst children, studies are not consistent, which creates feeble evidence for marketing and branding’s effects on childhood obesity. But there is still hope for the future of our country, as scientists continue to strive to establish better research techniques that can either solidly prove or deny the correlation between the two. In the meantime, households at the least can start having conversations with their children and teenagers about marketing’s effect on their preferences and choices, and can proactively work on breaking the hold that food corporations have over so many of them.
Aaker, David. “Brand Personalities Are Like Snowflakes.” Marketing News, vol. 49, no. 7, 1 July 2015, pp. 20-21. EBSCOhost, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/ehost/c8%40sessionmgr.
Breiner, Heather, et al. Challenges and Opportunities for Change in Food Marketing to Children and Youth Workshop Summary. National Academies Press, May 2013. ProQuest eBook Library, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/portlandstate/reader.action?docID=10863889.
“Childhood Obesity Facts: Prevalence of Childhood Obesity in the United States, 2011- 2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html.
“Facts Up Front Front-of-Pack Labeling Initiative.” Grocery Manufacturers Association, 2016, http://www.gmaonline.org/issues-policy/health-nutrition/facts-up-front-frontof-pack-labeling-initiative.
“FTC Releases Follow-Up Study Detailing Promotional Activities, Expenditures, and Nutritional Profiles of Food Marketed to Children and Adolescents: Commends Industry for Progress, Urges Broader Participation and Continued Improvement.” Federal Trade Commission, 21 December 2012, www.ftc.gov/newsevents/press-releases/2012/12/ftc-releases-follow-study-detailing-promotionalactivities.
Harris, Jennifer L., et al. “Marketing Foods to Children and Adolescents: Licensed Characters and Other Promotions on Packaged Foods in the Supermarket.” The Nutrition Society, vol. 13, no. 3, March 2010, pp. 409-417. Cambridge University Press, doi: 10.1017/S1368980009991339.
Keller, Kathleen L., et al. “The Impact of Food Branding on Children’s Eating Behavior and Obesity.” Physiology and Behavior, vol. 106, no. 3, 6 June 2012, pp. 379- 386. Elsevier ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.03.011.
McGinnis, J. Michael and Jennifer Appleton Gootman. Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? National Academies Press, April 2006. ProQuest eBook Library, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/portlandstate/detail.action?docID=10120677.
Musicus, Avira, et al. “Eyes in the Aisles: Why is Cap’n Crunch Looking Down at My Child?” Environment and Behavior, vol. 47, no. 7, 2015, pp. 715-733. SAGE, http://eab.sagepub.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/content/47/7/715.full.pdf+html.
“Should Advertising to Kids Be Banned?” Stuff You Should Know, HowStuffWorks, 24 Nov 2016, http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/banned-kidsadvertising.htm.
Wilks, Nicoletta A. Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents. Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2009. ProQuest eBook Library, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/portlandstate/reader.action?doc1D=10671274.
A Changing Ball-Game120
LaVar Ball is changing the National Basketball Association's shoe- and player-branding culture without playing a single NBA minute. His son, Lonzo, is a few short weeks away from hearing his name among the first few called in the NBA Draft after a standout year playing basketball at UCLA. Lonzo has two younger brothers as well, one of whom, LiAngelo, will play at UCLA in the 2017-2018 season, and another, LaMelo, who committed to the same university as his brothers two years ago even though he was just an eight-grader (Calle). The three Ball children played on the same high school team in Chino Hills, California, setting the world alight in early 2016 with their high-powered, free-flowing offense centered around the brothers. They would jack shots that “traditionalists would argue against” but after winning a national championship, “Chino Hills [had] proved its effectiveness in ways never seen before” (Calle). Since then, as the Balls have started to transition out of the world of children playing basketball and entered into the more adult level of college sports (and, soon, the NBA), the attention has shifted from the boys to their father. His outspokenness and demands for respect and inclusion are making waves across the basketball world, even possibly having lasting effects on athletes in every sport.
LaVar is attempting to influence everything around his sons, particularly Lonzo as he goes into the league: he is claiming his son will only play for certain teams and, most controversially, distancing himself and his sons from the major shoe companies in a way that an athlete’s camp rarely does at such an early stage in their professional career. What he is doing is undoubtedly risky, but it has clear upside too. If it works, it could clear a path for future athletes to be successful building and monetizing a brand that is not dependent on the sneaker industry. Even if it does not work, it will provide a rough blueprint upon which others can improve in order to become as big as the major signature athletes without having to depend on the corporations backing them.
Attacking the status quo is LaVar’s forte. When he and his family first moved into their home in the Alterra neighborhood in Chino Hills, he received grief from the homeowner’s association for attempting to paint his home white and not sticking with the peach color mandated by the association’s guidelines. Fast-forward to now, and President of the Alterra Homeowner’s Association LaVar Ball lives in a white home, proclaiming, “If Obama can have the White House, Goddamnit Big Baller can have a white house!” (Calle). LaVar’s haughty yet sometimes wildly ambitious statements about his family and esteemed symbols like the president have become a bit of a... thing, too. To date, he has said that Lonzo would make the best team in the league (the Golden State Warriors) better if they somehow swapped him with Steph Curry, the back-to-back and first-ever unanimous NBA Most Valuable Player. Lavar has called Lonzo the best player in the world; he said that Lonzo would only play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Lavar said that he himself would beat Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest human basketball player to live on the planet Earth, in a one-on-one game. These comments, along with Lonzo’s campaign on the court and LaMelo’s highly controversial 92-point game at Chino Hills, have all coalesced into making the Balls the most (in)famous family in the basketball world’s recent memory. They have created a name for the family that is extraordinarily atypical in a time where players are coming in as more and more nondescript products to the league each passing year.
The Balls’ need to have creative control has not stopped at the painted house, either. In fact, the largest dispute surrounding their branding with shoe companies today is centered around their need for creative control. The types of deals that are available to NBA players are very structured and limited to three tiers. According to Yahoo! Sports’ NBA shoe insider Nick DePaula, undrafted rookies and fringe NBA players typically receive “merchandise” or “merch” deals from shoe companies that gives them sneakers and gear for them to play in. These deals amount to products around $50,000 to $100,000. That is just a baseline though—effectively the minimum wage a professional hooper can be paid to promote a brand like Nike, adidas, or Under Armour, rather than the player cutting a check from their own wallet for footwear.
The next tier of deal is called a “cash” deal, “where the majority of the league falls” (DePaula). Players with these deals will get a certain amount of cash, essentially a salary, over a set number of years according to the contract they sign with the company. On top of that, though, many of the best players in the league will get their own logos, phrases or ad campaigns along with colorways, known as player exclusives, of the shoes that Nike is running out that season to match their team’s jerseys or something connected to the player. The salaries are negotiated by agents and depend on how marketable the player is. Usually, “a rookie will sign a shoe deal with a brand that’ll last three or four years” and the “current shoe deal range for a marketable lottery pick [such as Lonzo Ball] can be anywhere to $200,000 to $700,000 [per year], with exceptions every so often for what brands consider to be ‘can’t-miss’ endorsement stars” such as Andrew Wiggins, who signed an $11 million deal spread over five years with the bonus as being a key headliner for their new line of sneakers (DePaula). This is the same tier where Lonzo would probably find himself, given the fame the Balls have crafted for themselves coming into the draft. In an interview with ESPN Radio’s The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, Lonzo confirmed that Nike, adidas, and Under Armour offered fiveyear deals worth $2 million per year.
The most exalted compensation a player can get for partnering with a sneaker company, though, is a signature sneaker. A signature sneaker deal offers more money, the status as one of the company’s premier athlete in the sport, and a shoe designed and marketed specifically for the individual player. This is only for the most elite of the elite and “will forever be the most sought after deal in basketball” (DePaula). There are only ten basketball players out of the current 450 active NBA players that have signature shoes with American brands: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant (now retired), and Kyrie Irving with Nike; Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony with Nike’s subsidiary Jordan Brand; Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard, and James Harden with adidas; and Stephen Curry with Under Armour. Most of these superstars came into the NBA with cash deals and player exclusives and worked their way up to a signature. Signature shoes are so hard-earned that rookies are rarely awarded them for their first professional game. The last two times it happened were John Wall’s Reebok Zig Slash seven years ago and LeBron James’ Nike Air Zoom Generation in 2003, nearly a decade-and-a-half ago (DePaula). The two were surefire commodities, John Wall becoming a multiple time All Star and one of the best players at his position and LeBron James cementing himself as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. So, for someone to waltz into negotiations with sneaker company powerhouses and expect anything more than a cash deal—maybe a player exclusive colorway or two without being billed as a bona fide superstar—would be like a player walking up the court and launching shots up from 20 feet beyond the three-point line.
Of course, shooting shots like this are exactly what the Balls do, whether that is figuratively in LaVar’s comments or literally in LaMelo’s shot selection in games. There exists a subset of players in the league with cult-like followings because of the shots they shoot. Earl “J.R.” Smith, Dion Waiters and others live in this beloved sphere despite their questionable added benefit to their teams. A wise man, Wayne Gretzky, once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t shoot,” essentially stating that no inherent harm exists in attempting the unimaginable. Even wiser and less accomplished men boiled this down to the phrases “If You Don’t Hunt, You Don’t Eat” and “Shooters Shoot.” The Balls are shooters who walk into any room with two spoons in their holsters equipped to dine. In a widely circulated clip from a Chino Hills game earlier this year, LaMelo dribbled the basketball up from the backcourt, pointed at the half court line to indicate the spot he was going to shoot from and audaciously pulled up from the exact spot. The net subsequently swelled in the purest of ripples. LaVar did the same thing. He told the world that he would take nothing less than a billion—with a B—dollars for his sons to sign with a shoe company. The typical cash deal would not be enough, though, even if they met his billion dollar demands. Companies would need to absorb the family’s business, Big Baller Brand (or 3 Bs), rather than simply adding a swoosh or three stripes onto Ball products. They required co-branding, a partnership that would be more akin to Jordan Brand’s current relationship with Nike than to athletes like Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant’s relationships with Nike. LaVar has said, “[We] aren’t looking for an endorsement deal.... We’re looking for... a true partner” (Rovell). This is relatively unprecedented with Jordan Brand being the only real comparison in the sneaker world and that only became independent towards the end of Michael Jordan’s esteemed career (Sole Man). Even LeBron, Jordan’s only active peer in terms of greatness, operates wholly under Nike when it comes to shoes and athletic-wear.
Naturally, all three of the major shoe companies rejected the Balls’ request (Rovell). Not only was the request itself unique but, “never in the history of modern-day shoe endorsements have the big companies all stepped away from a potential top pick nearly two months before the NBA draft” (Rovell). LaVar maintains that he does not care about the rejection and this is all for the greater good, part of the bigger plan. He said that he knew the companies would never agree to his terms but he had to get them to say no because he “wanted to make sure so when they make this mistake and they look back, they’re going to say ‘man, we should’ve just given that man a billion dollars’” (Le Batard). Some people, including FOX Sports’ Lindsey Foltin, have claimed that despite the fact that “LaVar insists he’s doing what’s best for Lonzo, his behavior could end up costing his son millions.” Unsurprisingly, LaVar replied, “you goddang right I’m costing him millions because it ain’t about millions with us. It’s about them Bs. Billions” (Le Batard).
Beyond the dollar figure and amount of zeros on the contract, the biggest and most important part of these public negotiations have been the extent of input the Balls have on their own brand. That is the essential aspect of co-branding: the retention of creative control. When it comes down to it, LaVar asserts that “as long as my son’s got a shoe, if I only made 50 shoes, they’re for him. It’s his own shoe” (Le Batard). The pride that he has in Lonzo and that the Ball boys can have in their product is vital, and that is something he says his young, unproven sons would never get from the giants Nike, adidas, and Under Armour.
Besides a father’s pride in his sons, an athlete’s control over their own brand is increasingly becoming a point of contention between the players and the shoe companies. In his seminal piece examining how and why Stephen Curry walked away at the expiration of his deal with Nike, Ethan Strauss discusses Curry’s own journey to create his own space in the sneaker and basketball worlds. A huge concern for Curry while negotiating a renewed deal with Nike, which he signed as a rookie before he became the superstar he is today, was whether he would get to lead his own Nikesponsored camp for elite youth players. This not only lets young players learn from the best, but it also allows the professionals to tangibly affect the best up-and-coming talents, something much “more meaningful than strangers clamoring for autographs on the street” (Strauss). Nike, though, did not value Curry enough to give him this and put him on their second tier of athletes, the athletes without their own signature. Now, though, with Under Armour, Curry has both his camp and a signature sneaker and is a bigger, more unique star than he ever would be under Nike.
Curry is not alone in this, either. A player’s brand is inextricably linked to their footwear nowadays, perhaps more than the teams they play for and their on-court prowess. DePaula points out that shoe deals are actually negotiated in much the same way that free agent contracts are hashed out. He also writes, “[As] players of all levels enter the league, their eventual shoe deal continues to be secondary to team deals, but sneaker contracts have become more lucrative and incentivized.” This has gotten so extreme that in the same offseason that LeBron signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he signed a lifetime deal with Nike worth more than half a billion (Strauss). ESPN Radio host Bomani Jones even argues that, because of this, many players’ first loyalties lie with the shoe companies instead of their teams: “your primary employer is who pays you the most money.... LeBron was Team Nike before he was a Cleveland Cavalier or a member of the Miami Heat or any of those things. We contextualize guys around the teams they play for because that’s the relevant variable for the kind of work that we do” (Strauss). In fact, Jones and Curry got into a minor spat on Twitter when Curry saw some jabs that Jones had poked at his Under Armour shoes. Curry took it very seriously and personally, said Jones, pointing out that “there doesn’t seem to be much space in his mind between himself and Under Armour” (Strauss). This is why many athletes, the Balls foremost among them, are becoming more and more concerned with their role in crafting their own brand and how it is all integrated into their overall image as public figures: “Curry and James aren’t just salvos in a battle between brands; it’s a personal war.... It’s a fight for something even bigger than a basketball career” (Strauss).
While this is all nice and well for players at the height of their basketball powers, LaVar is endeavoring to claim agency for himself and his family before any of them have stepped on a professional basketball court, a fact few critics have failed to point out. They have not earned this yet. Nobody’s ever tried to forge their own lane without already being great. But maybe this is not the case. In fact, LeBron began breaking out of the corporation-defined mold after just one year in the league, albeit an all-time great year. After his rookie year, “Mr. James did the almost unthinkable in the sometimes stuffy world of sports marketing — he handed his off-the-court businesses and marketing over to” his childhood friends Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, and Randy Mims (Thomaselli). LeBron was searching for the same self-definition that the Balls are now. Looking back, LeBron recalls, “I wanted to wake up in the morning and say I did it my way. I’m not being cocky and saying it’s my way or the highway; I just wanted to make a decision” (Thomaselli). It is nearly the same exact notion that LaVar and Lonzo are currently pushing more than a decade later. At the time, LeBron “and his friends also wanted a new type of sports marketing. Rather than endorsements, he wanted partnerships” (Thomaselli). This reads almost verbatim to what LaVar is talking about now in the year 2017. History may not be repeating itself but it is, at the very least, rhyming.
Neither of these journeys—LeBron’s and the Ball family’s—are without speedbumps, though. LeBron and his people created their own management and media agency, LRMR, in Maverick Carter’s mother’s kitchen after firing LeBron’s agent (Torre). LRMR’s first major media project was “The Decision — the broadly consumed and deeply unpopular ESPN primetime special wherein James announced he was leaving the Cavs for the Heat” (Torre). This seemingly self-indulgent, look-at-me production made LeBron the most hated player in the league for quite some time (despite it raising tens of millions of dollars for charity). Similarly, the Ball family’s notoriety is coming at the expense of many criticisms of LaVar’s outspokenness. The resemblances between the two cases are uncanny; the Balls are just more pronounced in their desires while moving the timeline ahead a year. After all, LaVar did declare that they were never planning to “sign with a company and then wait around for five or six years for a shoe” (Rovell).
Now that LeBron has neared the mountaintop of basketball and dominates the sneaker world as well, he has set his sights to other avenues. He has continuously chosen partnerships—such as his with Warner Bros. that the studio called “unprecedented in scope”—that give greater creative control than their competing alternatives offered (Torre). LRMR has created Uninterrupted, a media outlet for players to connect directly with fans. Continuing to buck traditional sensibilities that hang on to the players’ teams as their primary allegiance, he headlines and works closely in this effort with Draymond Green, “James’ ostensible [Golden State] Warriors rival” (Torre). Notably, Draymond Green is also a Nike athlete, another hint to the waning importance of team conflicts as opposed to promotion of more personal undertakings. According to LeBron, the projects he is participating in now are all part of the “vision that [he] had 10- plus years ago” (Torre).
The Balls’ sights, while lofty in their own rights, have only been set on the sneaker industry as of now. Still, with their “Shooters Shoot” mentality and their propensity to reject established and outdated standards, it is possible that their ventures will lead them to paths outside of shoes. They are branding themselves in a vastly different way than most everyone else has and, most importantly, they are doing it their own individual way. LaVar said a year-and-a-half ago that they are “doing some shit that has never been done before. We kind of march to our own beat in the fact that we make our own rules.... We jumped out the box and took a risk” (Calle). In a similar vein, LeBron cited the television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, noting similarities between himself and Will Smith’s titular character:
It was, [LeBron] admits, more than just a character on TV. More like an inspiration. ‘The guy makes it out of Philadelphia? I treated that as Akron, Ohio [LeBron’s hometown]. He makes it to Los Angeles with a rich family, but he can still be himself? That’s what I wanted to be. With the blazer inside out... All of that.’ (Torre)
The way players cling to this individuality within the often-starched backdrop is crucial and only growing in importance as values moves away from conventional team-based allegiances towards personal brands. LeBron’s circle mentioned how different things were in the early 2000s, when he came into the league, from the ‘80s, when Michael Jordan made his name because of the uprise of mass media and its use in making wider audiences more accessible (Thomaselli). This applies even more aptly in 2017 with social media’s advent, a huge advantage in marketing that has benefitted the viral-ness of many of the more eccentric shots LaVar has put up.
Frankly, the stakes are huge. It may be just sports, but the money exchanged on these playgrounds is massive. Stephen Curry’s “potential worth to [Under Armour] is placed at more than a staggering $14 billion” and business experts “peg total sneaker sales somewhere north of $20 billion annually, and rising” (Strauss). Unsaid but assumed up until now, much of the Balls’ potential as transcendent difference-makers depends upon at least one of the Ball brothers (Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo) being exceptional at the game that allowed them to get here. They are using what LeBron has been doing for nearly 15 years and refining the blueprint, but LeBron has a leg up as one of the few unequalled players in the game’s history. So, let us hypothetically assume the worst—that the Balls all bust or wear upon the public’s nerves to the point of no return: the fact that they have gotten this far is nevertheless remarkable. This phenomenon has not occurred in a vacuum. Even if they end up being nothing more than a small blip in Nike’s, adidas’s, and Under Armour’s smooth-sailing Titanics, they matter. They have presented those who follow a longer runway to launch from than was there previously—a runway that does not rely on these major corporations’ backing. When recalling his time playing at Chino Hills High School, Lonzo reflected, “I felt like I helped change the culture over there” (Calle). Now, before he has had his name called at the NBA Draft, he and Big Baller Brand a̶r̶e̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶n̶g̶i̶n̶g̶ have already changed the culture on an even larger scale.
Calle, Franklyn. “Ball Is Life.” SLAMonline, 4 Aug. 2016, www.slamonline.com/blogs/onthe-come-up/ball-bros/#y4Hp1E4EKHUGZHLE.97.
DePaula, Nick. “Inside the Sneaker Industry: How NBA Shoe Deals Work.” Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo!, 29 Jan. 2016, sports.yahoo.com/news/inside-the-sneakerindustry--how-nba-shoe-deals-work-032155839.html.
Foltin, Lindsey. “How LaVar Ball Cost Lonzo a Shoe Deal with Nike, Adidas and Others.” FOX Sports, 30 Apr. 2017, www.foxsports.com/collegebasketball/story/lavar-ball-lonzo-ball-cost-shoe-deal-endorsement-nike-adidasunder-armour-nba-draft-043017.
Le Batard, Dan and John Weiner. “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz: Hour 1: LaVar Ball.” ESPN Radio, 5 May 2017, https://www.mixcloud.com/thedanlebatardshowwithstugotz/hour-1-lavar-ball5517/.
Rovell, Darren. “Nike, Under Armour, Adidas Not Interested in Deal with Lonzo Ball.” ESPN, 30 Apr 2017, www.espn.com/mens-collegebasketball/story/_/id/19264024/nike-armour-adidas-not-interested-deal-lonzoball.
Sole Man, directed by Jon Weinbach and Dan Marks. ESPN Films, 2015, http://www.espn.com/30for30/film?page=soleman.
Strauss, Ethan Sherwood. “You Won’t Believe How Nike Lost Steph to Under Armour.” ESPN, 23 Mar 2016, www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/15047018/how-nike-loststephen-curry-armour.
Thomaselli, Rich. “All the King’s Men.” Advertising Age, vol. 77, no. 29, 17 July 2006, pp. 1-25. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=21668901&site =ehost-live.
Torre, Pablo S. “Lebron: The Sequel.” ESPN, 15 Feb. 2017, www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/18686205/the-second-chapter-lebronjames-career.
Vaccines: Controversies and Miracles121
Every year billions of people get vaccinated for protection from diseases and illnesses. Before vaccinations, the flu ran rampant; measles would kill thousands yearly; polio would paralyze upwards of 15,000 people a year, and many other diseases would devastate societies (Offit 3). Even with the wonderful advancement of vaccines, people still opt out of getting them, endangering themselves and everyone around them. I have observed that the two most common reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are either that they claim vaccines do not work or that vaccines can even cause autism. These responses are derived from a place of being horribly misinformed. We will explore why these claims have become popular, and what the truth really is. Vaccines are essential for the health of an individual, the people directly around them, and societies overall. The evidence against the most common excuses is very strong and in large quantity. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence supporting the autism claim or misunderstanding of vaccines not “working”, thus making these excuses invalid.
Sometimes misinterpreting something small can create a big wave of damage. When people say that vaccines do not “work”, they think that vaccines are a definitive solution to their health, and when they or someone still gets sick, then the vaccine did not work. This is a fair statement; however, this is not what vaccines actually do. Getting vaccinated is not an absolute healing technique; rather, it is for reducing the chances one will get a disease. It is much like wearing pads while riding a bike: your chances of injury goes down, but there is still a chance of getting hurt. As for vaccines, the chances of getting the flu after being vaccinated is usually reduced by 40-60% (“Vaccine”). Pair that with healthy habits like frequent washing of hands, and the odds go even more in your favor. An example of a highly successful vaccine is the chickenpox vaccine. It is over 95% effective in preventing severe chickenpox. And only 10-30% of vaccinated children may catch a mild case of chickenpox if they are around someone who has the disease (Hammond). What these statistics show is the benefits of vaccines, but they also show the limitations of them as well. The math is simple: getting vaccinated reduces your chances of disease greatly, and in doing so, you are fulfilling your responsibility to be a healthy individual in society.
In 1998 Andrew Wakefield conducted research to see if there was a link between the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. But he did not conduct honest research because he tampered with the medical records of all 12 of his test subjects to make the connection between autism and the MMR vaccine seem stronger (Chan). As if this weren’t enough, Wakefield was paid by lawyers to create a result they could use in their case to sue vaccine manufacturers. Not only that, but nobody has ever replicated his findings (Gorski). It goes without saying that being paid to change records automatically terminates the authenticity of a study. Furthermore, if a result cannot be replicated, then the original finding is most likely incorrect. A good theory must be able to be tested and redone with the results being consistent. With Wakefield’s study, there are no findings supporting his claims but countless studies refuting them. One example is a study in the New England Journal of Medicine conducted in 2002 that had over 500,000 subjects. This large study followed half a million children for seven years and found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield had his medical license revoked in 2010 (Chan).
Even though the Wakefield hoax has been debunked countless times, some parents still believe that the vaccine causes autism. They often claim they noticed signs of autism after the vaccine, but they usually do not know when autism becomes apparent. Autism is a genetic disorder with signs that become visible at 18 months of age. The MMR vaccine is usually given at 12-15 months of age, before anyone would even know if a child has autism (Bhandari). So, if a child has autism and is given the vaccine at 15 months, it is reasonable for a parent to notice symptoms of autism a couple months later and link them to the vaccine. But if that child did not get the vaccine, those same signs would show due to the genetic factors that cause autism.
Vaccines are known as miracles of medicine; nothing short of a colossal impact on modern society. But a much larger impact is not vaccinating at all. Japan is an example of a country that banned a specific vaccine, and with no surprise, an epidemic broke out. “In 2013, the recent serious measles outbreak was fueled by children who weren’t vaccinated a decade ago. The disease primarily affected teenagers but spread to infants who were too young to be vaccinated” (Larson). This is why vaccinating is a responsibility everyone has; one person has the disease, then passes it to the next, and on it passes to those who are too young to vaccinate. Would you be another stepping stone in the spreading of disease? Or would you be protected from the disease, thus slowing the spreading? Immunity is a group effort, and if a portion of the population is not participating in vaccination, then disease is bound to get out of control and infect individuals with no vaccine. This includes innocent infants who have not been vaccinated yet. Every individual is a part of the picture in group health.
Vaccines: the misinterpretations, conspiracies, and saved lives has sparked many of debates. Many believe that vaccines do not “work” and that they are for ultimate healing, but this is far from what vaccines do. Vaccines protect and reduce the chances of getting a disease and allow individuals to do their part in mass health. The conspiracy theory claiming that the MMR vaccine causes autism has been proven false by countless studies and rendered untrustworthy by the acts of the man who made the original claims. Vaccines are our tool in keeping ourselves and one another healthy. I challenge you to do your part in preventing outbreaks and maintaining public health by getting your vaccinations.
Bhandari, Smitha. “Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine.” WebMD, 31 May 2016, www.webmd.com/children/vaccines/measles-mumps-and-rubella-mmrvaccine#1.
Chan, Amanda. “1998 Study Linking Autism to Vaccines Was an ‘Elaborate Fraud’.” LiveScience, Purch, 6 Jan. 2011, www.livescience.com/35341-mmr-vaccinelinked-autism-study-was-elaborate-fraud.html.
Gorski, David. “Antivaccine Hero Andrew Wakefield: Scientific Fraud?” Science-Based Medicine, 9 Feb. 2009, sciencebasedmedicine.org/antivaccine-heroandrew-wakefield-scientific-fraud/.
Hammond, Blair. “How Effective Is the Chickenpox Vaccine?” Everyday Health, 12 Mar. 2008, www.everydayhealth.com/specialists/pediatrics/hammond/qa/chickenpoxvaccine-effectiveness/index.aspx.
Larson, Heidi. “Vaccination Gaps Led to Rubella Outbreaks in Japan and Poland.” The Conversation, 21 May 2018, http://theconversation.com/vaccination-gaps-led-torubella-outbreaks-in-japan-and-poland-15970.
Smith, Malinda, et al. “Does My Child Have Autism? Recognizing the Early Signs and Symptoms of Autism.” Helpguide.org, Mar. 2018, www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/does-my-child-haveautism.htm.
Offit, Paul A., and Louis M. Bell. Vaccines: What You Should Know. 3rd edition, John Wiley, 2003.
“Vaccine Effectiveness – How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 3 Oct. 2017, www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm.