- One of the NBA's most successful pitchmen, Shaquille O'Neal continues to win off the court with his new American Express campaign.
Few athletes have accomplished the level of off-court success experienced by Shaquille O’Neal. As one of the most dominant players in NBA history, O’Neal transformed into a global superstar away from the court. In a time when big men were banished from sneaker ads, O’Neal changed everything with his gentle giant personality. O’Neal, who has since retired and been inducted into the Hall of Fame, is still dominating off the court, appearing in ad campaigns and commercials.
From having his own beverage with Arizona Ice Tea to trying to fit into cars for Buick, Shaq is living the dream every retired athlete wants. American Express recently launched a new campaign with the NBA Hall of Famer to promote its Shop Small for 2X Rewards offer, which encourages and rewards card members for shopping at small businesses through the end of the year.
As part of this campaign, American Express created a comical video series that features O’Neal and a few of his celebrity friends visiting small businesses across the country to find the perfect holiday gifts for friends and family. The first ad, which launched on Nov. 10, featured Kendrick Lamar. We had the opportunity to chat with Shaq about his partnership with American Express, Kendrick Lamar and his relationship with Reebok.
Jarrel Harris: Your partnership with American Express focuses on local businesses. What makes this partnership special to you?
Shaquille O’Neal: I’ve been an American Express card holder since ‘92, and I love small businesses. People rely on the big businesses and the big malls, but there are a lot of small unique shops. We shot the first commercial with Kendrick Lamar in a soap store, you can’t find places like that anywhere else. We just want to encourage people to support small businesses.
JH: How was it working with Kendrick Lamar for this campaign?
SO: I’ve known Kendrick for awhile. I am a fan of his and he loves basketball. He used to always be at the Lakers games and stuff when he was little bit younger so he was really easy to work with. It it always easy to work with someone you know and respect a lot.
JH: Bar for bar, who wins in a rap battle? Is K.Dot touching your albums Shaq Diesal or Shaq Fu?
SO: Oh no, Kendrick Lamar is the man. I am not a rapper, I am just a ball player that can rap his ass off.
JH: You have had a lot of success away from the court, so break it down for me: How did you develop your business mindset?
SO: I didn’t want to be a part of the statistic that said 60-70% of professional athletes go broke after their playing are done. So I had to go back and get a couple more degrees and further my education. I just didn’t want to be like everyone else.
JH: How would describe the Shaq brand? What makes it unique?
SO: The Shaq brand is all about fun. I am the ambassador of fun. You look at all of the commercials that make you laugh, that make you smile, all of the products are fun and affordable. So the Shaq brand is the most fun brand in the world.
JH: For young NBA players, can you provide a little Shaq marketing 101. How can you become a great pitchman? What has worked for you?
SO: First thing I would say is be yourself, and second of all, you have to be true to the product. All that stuff that I’ve been doing is the stuff that I actually use. Like I said, I’ve been with American Express since August of ‘92, and I will always continue to be an American Express guy.
JH: Do you see yourself in anyone in today's game?
SO: No, of course not.
JH: You had a big part in Reebok’s success. What made them standout to you and can you describe your relationship with them now?
SO: We have a great relationship. You know the sneakerheads and all the kids love the retros. We got a couple hot retros still booming. But what made Reebok standout was that they were attuned with the Shaq brand and the fun. They offered me my own line, my own shoe. Nike wanted me to be on the back burner, I don’t do back burners.
JH: With signing with Reebok, how did your deal change the way brands marketed big men?
SO: They always said big people did not sale, so I wanted to be the first one to dispel that myth.
JH: Back then, what was your mindset in competing with Michael Jordan in the sneaker sales and design?
SO: I was just worrying about my own brand, just trying to make a name for myself.
JH: You have so many memorable sneakers such as the telephone shoe. Which one stands out to you the most and why?
SO: Shaqnosis! They put you in hypnosis. I would be able to control you during the game.
JH: You have accomplished a bunch off stuff on and off the court. What is the next big thing for you?
SO: Maybe law school, I am thinking about. It takes about four years.