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Steph Curry 'Overcomes' in Kaiser Permanente's Striking Mental Wellness Campaign

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Golden State Warriors Point Guard Steph Curry is no stranger to the ad spotlight, having appeared in a host of campaigns for clients including Under Armour, NBA 2K, Muscle Milk and most recently, Chase. His latest, for Oakland, Calif.-headquartered healthcare company Kaiser Permanente, shows him in an unexpectedly vulnerable light.

Created out of Translation, the effort debuts with a hero spot that opens on the NBA star's intense mug, awash in blue as he prepares to step into a deprivation tank. The voices of critics swirl about: "Can Curry deliver?"... "He's not one of the greats yet."

Immersed in the capsule, he takes a deep breath and gets sucked into a surreal waterworld, where basketball nets stretch into jellyfish creatures and balls plunge in like torpedoes. The cacophony of criticism continues until Curry takes a deep breath and meditates: "Calm, strong, focused." Chaos transforms to quiet. It's then that we see Curry heading out to the court, open and confident. Copy reads, "Train the mind. The body will follow," followed by the Kaiser Permanente logo.

Adwise, it's a startling introspective turn for Curry. With Chase, for example, we saw him in epic ping pong showdown with Serena Williams, while his previous turns for Kaiser, with whom he's partnered since his rookie days, were more humorous, with a documentary feel.

But the ad is not only a departure for the NBA star, it's a major shift for the brand as well.

"We're moving from being more inspirational around telling people to thrive, to acknowledging that thriving is hard and difficult," said Lawrence Montgomery, Kaiser Permanente senior director of national advertising. "That's what you see in Stephen. For the everyday man and woman, being able to relate to that, we think, is powerful. It's not just being about the positive, going out and having fun. We're saying, 'Hey, this is difficult, but there are things you can do to overcome that.'"

As a healthcare company, Kaiser Permanente has the mission of promoting "total health," Mr. Montgomery said. In recent years, that idea has extended beyond supporting nutrition and physical activity to mental health, to messages that have targeted topics like depression. "In 2017 we said there's more to mental health than just depression, and we wanted to find a way we can address the topic that's relevant to a broader audience," he said.

Along with the NBA and Translation, Kaiser Permanente landed on a key strategy -- to focus on the idea of mental resilience, a skill pro athletes leverage on a regular basis, but one that's important to everyday folks as well.

"It's such a huge sports insight, but it's a shared human insight as well," said Translation Chief Creative Officer John Norman. "Everyone deals with negativity and having to fight that in your head."

Steph Curry seemed the perfect hero for the cause -- a revered athlete who's overcome major upsets himself, such as last year's unrequited bid for the NBA Championship. "Part of the brief was that you wanted this spot to resonate with everyone. You want them to look at it and say, 'Hey, if he can overcome that -- if he's willing to talk about the reality -- I can too," said Mr. Montgomery.

For the ad's production, Translation tapped Stink directing team Jones & Tino, known for their visual storytelling (They directed the stunning Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix-winning ad celebating Leica's 100th anniversary.) Audio was key as well. "We took a lot of the banter that existed [around Curry] and recreated almost verbatim the sounds we heard," Mr. Norman said.

As part of the campaign, Kaiser will also be running social films featuring both Mr. Curry and fellow NBA athlete Chris Paul, discussing how they train their minds, deal with stress, overcome mental hurdles and just chill out.

The new campaign also marks an unprecedented media buy for the brand. Even though the company does not operate in every market, it will have a national media buy, running on TNT, ESPN, Turner and NBA TV. "It's a strategy we employed as part of our NBA partnership," said Mr. Montgomery. "We want to inspire health nationwide."