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Award-winning work: how Milwaukee Bucks courted potential sponsors with custom kicks

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By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

March 13, 2023 | 7 min read

As we near the March 23 entry deadline The Drum Awards for Marketing, we catch up Ned Brown at Bader Rutter to hear how his agency’s direct mail campaign for the Milwaukee Bucks won in the Design category at last year’s show.

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Wowing CMOs with an unconventional campaign

When their long-term partnership with Harley-Davidson came to an end, the Milwaukee Bucks needed a new patch sponsor, so approached Wisconsin ad agency Bader Rutter to help the team catch the eyes of brands on the global stage.

With a tight timeline to ink the deal (six weeks), the challenge was to stand out in a sea of proposals and get CMOs of the basketball team’s top 20 brand targets to consider co-branding with them.

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Ned Brown, chief creative officer at Bader Rutter, says the partnership between the ballers and the ad agency was a natural one. Following the Harley-Davidson deal, the team’s value and market growth continued to accelerate and they wanted to attract bigger, more global brands.

“They reached out to us,” explains Brown. “We’re local, right across the bridge from their base. They’d seen what we were doing and thought we may have some interesting ways of solving their problem.”

Energized and excited with what Bader Rutter brought to the table, the idea was to create custom art shoes for each brand in star player Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shoe size, among other personalized goodies.

Creating the model shoe

It was full steam ahead for Bader Rutter’s production and creative teams. With over 20 shoes to custom design, they partnered with local custom shoe artist Noah Alvarado, who’s well-known within the NBA. For each brand’s mailer, a custom-made shoe, plus a jersey with a patch and video detailing the Milwaukee Bucks’ message, was produced.

Having to move fast, a 360 design was created for each shoe with four designers working on the art. “Each one took five or six brands, which became their own mini assignment within the bigger assignment. For each brand, we needed to consider what was unique about it to visually incorporate it into the shoe. It had to be fun and playful in an interesting way.

“For Uline, a packaging and supply brand, we looked at what types of materials we would use. Bubble wrap became part of the shoe as well as the chipboard. Then there was a metallic Teflon that became the swoosh of the Nike logo. In each case, we were figuring out what was unique about the brand that we could incorporate visually through different aspects and elements of the shoe materials to bring it to life. Every single shoe had that same vision and drive to it.”

While the designs were great, getting them to work on the shoes was the next challenge. Alvarado would play with the designs to find alternative ways to execute them. At the same time, Bader Rutter was figuring out what the box needed to feel like.

“It needed to be high-end, with the wood inlay of a basketball floor,” says Brown. “We were developing all those elements simultaneously as we were designing the shoes. Together, the team worked tirelessly to make this project happen, even during the holiday break. The project was a testament to the power of a great idea, how it can motivate and inspire people to work hard and overcome challenges.”

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Making it rain

Despite the relatively low production cost, the campaign was able to effectively communicate the value of the Bucks’ brand and its potential for future growth, which resonated with the chosen CMOs.

Brands that were not able to commit to being the patch sponsor were still impressed by the campaign and expressed interest in smaller sponsorship deals. As a result, the campaign generated more sponsorship money than initially hoped.

“The piece itself, while enticing, alluring and exciting, still had to work hard to communicate the value of the Bucks’ brand and its future value.”

Moto Bader

Following the success of the campaign, Bader Rutter saw success in various award programs and client acquisitions. In early summer 2022, the ad agency was approached by McCain Foods and Tetrapack as a result of its work with the Bucks.

“Great work begets great work. Our work is our currency. It has a shelf life that goes on for a long time because it shows the thinking and problem-solving that an agency and its people can bring. We’ll get clients from other categories outside of sports coming to us because they see that we took a problem and a challenge and solved it in an interesting way.”

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By pushing the boundaries and reinventing a traditional medium like direct mail, Bader Rutter created a unique and memorable piece that stood out in a cluttered mailbox, built a brand’s awareness and built a connection with CMOs.

The Drum Awards for Marketing Americas are currently open for entry. Make sure to submit your entries before March 23.

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