Sprite is doubling down on basketball for its largest global effort yet.
The brand will launch a campaign and global contest tonight as part of NBA All-Star weekend. A TV spot breaking tomorrow night shows Kobe Bryant and LeBron James preparing to jet around the world to find undiscovered basketball talent in Sprite's "Uncontainable Game" campaign.
NBA players such as Italian Andrea Bargnani, Al Horford of the Dominican Republic, Omri Casspi of Israel and Serge Ibaka of the Republic of Congo, will serve alongside Messrs. Bryant and James as coaches of "Team Intense" and "Team Sudden." Players can submit videos of their "sudden" or "intense" moves online to be judged by a panel of experts. Ultimately, two teams of 12 amateur players each will be selected to compete in the "Uncontainable Game" at NBA All-Star 2013. Sprite plans to carry the program into at least 2014.
"When we look at basketball as a global sport, it's the second biggest, after soccer," said Sara Schmid, group director-global marketing integration at Coca-Cola. "Basketball, as a form of self-expression, is a way to get teens around the world to express their passion and moves."
The campaign will run in 27 countries, making it the largest global campaign Sprite has ever executed. Two years ago "The Spark" campaign introducing a fresh tagline and highlighted the brand's first global packaging design.
Michael Mathews, Coca-Cola's VP-noncola sparkling beverages, said "The Spark" -- in particular a spot featuring singer Drake -- resonated well with teens. Spark Parks, an initiative effort to revamp outdoor spaces, has engaged moms and teens.
Though the "The Spark" tagline will be phased out in favor of the "Uncontainable Game," that campaign did the trick in returning Sprite to growth in the U.S. Though the lemon-lime soda has long been a top-10 soft drink, a series of ho-hum advertising campaigns and Coca-Cola launches diverted attention in the 2000s. Volume fell 3% in 2008 and 4% in 2009. But it rose 2% in 2010, and was up 5% in the first nine months of 2011, according to Beverage Digest.
Sprite spent $9 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media. That's far less then the $17 million in 2010 but even with 2009 levels.
"We have seen a new trajectory for Sprite in the past couple of years," Mr. Mathews said. "And we think we can expect more out of the brand. Our brand-health scores are up."
Sprite is also growing globally, according to Ms. Schmid, though specific figures weren't immediately available. She cited China, India, Turkey and Africa as expanding markets and noted that Sprite is larger in China than in the U.S. Sprite is also the mainland's No. 1 soft drink.
"As we continue to grow with strong global campaigns, we have our eye on whether it works for [these markets]," Ms. Schmid said.
The Shanghai office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Sprite's global agency of record, continues to work closely with the New York office, which leads the account. The Chinese version of the campaign will also include native musical artists, for example. While the campaign can be customized for local markets, Ms. Schmid said "Uncontainable Game" will be treated much like the marketer's Olympics and World Cup activations. The campaign includes print, out of home and in-store executions, as well as a robust digital and social media effort.
"The best global campaigns we're able to launch from the center," Ms. Schmid said. "That happens when we have a property or set point in time that we can activate against. The NBA All-Star Game and the kickoff this weekend give us the platform and property with basketball to create some unified tools and one story."