Kobe Bryant has plugged brands from Nike to Sprite to Apple. His latest commercial is unexpected: He's playing ping pong, badly, in a spot for a Chinese food delivery startup.
The ad from McCann Worldgroup Shanghai shows the retired Lakers star fighting hunger pangs as he botches a table tennis tournament. He's revived after a quick delivery of takeout from Ele.me, which is backed by internet giant Alibaba Group.
Mr. Bryant is huge in China. Even in retirement, he's the country's most famous athlete, according to ESPN's World Fame 100. Nike has brought him to China many times to train young players and inspire NBA fans. That partly explains his appeal here. Crowds appear whenever he visits; some Chinese companies gave employees time off in April to watch his final game.
Mr. Bryant appears in the ad with a Hong Kong actor named Wong Cho-lam. The campaign appears on TV and online. A second video will air in August.
Ele.me, which means "Are You Hungry?" in Chinese, was founded in 2008 by Jiaotong University students Zhang Xuhao and Kang Jia. It got $900 million in backing from e-commerce giant Alibaba this year; at the same time an Alibaba affiliate, Ant Financial, offered another $350 million investment. Alibaba rival Tencent has also backed it. Ele.me gets 5 million orders a day and has more than 70 million registered users; it's present in over 700 Chinese cities.
Read the full story on Kobe's new pitchman gig on Adage.com.