Client / Advertiser
When adidas signed James Harden, basketball's most enigmatic star, interest in his new signature shoe was white-hot.
But there was one problem… it wasn't ready yet.
Our mission: Build hype for the Harden Vol. 1 with the 15 year-old hoops fan. Get them excited. Keep them engaged. For three months straight. Without ever actually showing the shoe.
Remember, these are teen boys we're trying to reach and entertain. Notoriously short attention spans. Lots of competing interests. Prefer playing video games to almost anything else.
The answer? Project Harden for Adidas, a campaign matching the disruptive and enigmatic energy of James Harden. We exploded the story of the Harden Vol. 1 in 14 distinct chapters exclusively on Instagram.
Our strategy stemmed from primary research probing the social media habits of teens in three cities, and focused on four key insights:
- Make users part of the action. Gen Z thrives on participation.
- Establish a sense of discovery by making them work for it.
- Let the audience be the deciders and they will become advocates, too.
- Give them special access—to celebrities, information and products.
Upending the platform’s native functionality, each week content was taken down and built anew with 9 interconnected posts. Clues about the shoe design and insights to Harden’s personality were encoded with a variety of tactics: Messages that could only be read through an Inkwell filter. Voting by emoji to express love or hate of Harden. Embedding GPS coordinates of the Rockets' stadium in a single post.
The visual language was glitchy, kinetic and hard-edged, aligning with James Harden's iconoclastic style and swagger. The content strategy centered on sharing different aspects of Harden's personality and partnership with adidas: his game, gear, life, and future. The format was deliberately non-linear, jumping between distinct stories each week to break with conventional narrative and prevent people from getting too comfortable.
The channel launched in July 2016, and organically grew an audience of 28K followers in three months. But the goal wasn't a high follower count—it was to grow a legion of hyper-focused, participatory fans whose engagement became part of the story.
One out of five fans engaged with all 38 videos, and the group collectively watched 107 minutes of content per day during the 12-week tease.
The viewership and engagement was remarkably consistent, gluing the audience over time and proving the content's staying power. Kids were compelled to click on posts whether the visual showed an earlobe, an eye or black-and-white static.
James Harden himself spontaneously jumped on the channel to chat, responding to both fans and doubters.
The dedicated following has become an unofficial James Harden fanclub, a group of brand advocates that will play a key role in future Adidas campaigns.
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Alicia McVey / Chief Creative Officer / Swift
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Rick Albano / Executive Creative Director / Swift
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Ted Zahn / Group Creative Director / Swift
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James Robinson / Creative Director / Swift
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Pat McCaren / Creative Director / Swift
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Billy Lymm / Associate Creative Director / Swift
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Jeremy Webber / Director of Strategy / Swift
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Martin Torres / Producer / Swift
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Richard Beardsley / Producer / Swift
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Forrest Martin / Senior Designer / Swift
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Jess Harrington / Designer / Swift
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Nick Bynum / Writer / Swift
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Matt Berry / Account Director / Swift
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Mark Rasoul / Director of Digital and PR - Global Basketball / adidas