How Klarna Leveraged the Hype Around NBA All-Star Weekend to Activate its Chicago Bulls Sponsorship

Klarna_Bulls_All-Star 2022_Zach LaVine on court

Fans on-site and at home could vote on Klarna brand ambassador and Chicago Bulls player Zach LaVine’s pre-tunnel game look.

It wasn’t too long ago that shopping and payments service provider Klarna burst onto the gaming scene on a mission to leverage customized experiences to engage consumers around a major passion point. During NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, the brand once again tackled a new sphere. From Feb. 18-20 at Cleveland Public Square, Klarna officially made its first foray into the sports arena with the pop-up “Klarna All-Star Vault” experience that showcased the crossover between fashion and basketball throughout the league’s 75-year history.

Klarna’s goal was to reach a new audience—hoops fans—and bring them closer to the game they love through a hybrid blend of limited-edition merch, art integrations, activations and exclusive sneaker giveaways. The brand wasn’t an official NBA All-Star sponsor, but its recently-inked, multi-year experiential partnership with the Chicago Bulls as the team’s Official Shopping Partner validated its presence in Cleveland, and presented the perfect platform for activating the new sponsorship.

“What’s super important to us when evaluating partnerships is attaching ourselves to brands or partners who share the same values and ambitions that we’ve got, and that’s challenging the status quo and celebrating inclusivity and self-expression,” says Megan Gokey, head of U.S. marketing at Klarna. “The Bulls in particular really align with that. They, like Klarna, pioneer innovation and are committed to creating more meaningful, engaging experiences.”

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The Klarna All-Star Vault encompassed a number of touchpoints. For one, Klarna teamed up with merchant partner Stadium Goods to present a museum-like gallery of game-worn originals from the archives of prominent sneaker collector Gerard Starkey—including Michael Jordan’s 1989 Air Jordan 4s, which he was wearing during the famous “The Shot” moment against Cleveland. But it wasn’t all “look, don’t touch.” Fans could also score giveaways of highly-coveted styles, like the LeBron 10 P.S. Elite Total Crimson and the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG “Banned.”

A partnership with artist Sophia Chang yielded even more custom-designed merch. The influencer offered up items highlighting some of the key figures and phrases that have become entrenched in basketball culture over the years, and created a large on-site mural in the same vein.

For those who wanted to physically demonstrate their love of the game, Klarna offered a “four-point” shot experience that highlighted its “Pay in 4” flexible payment service. Participants could step up to a branded court and put their skills to the test. By making four shots in under 40 seconds, they earned a chance to win some of the limited-edition merch displayed on-site, and unlock a 15-percent-off deal with Stadium Goods if they purchased from the retailer that weekend.

Klarna_Bulls_All-Star 2022_Sophia Chang

Artist partner Sophia Chang created custom merch and a mural inspired by the NBA’s 75-year history.

The engagement didn’t stop there. Klarna appealed to online audiences through a number of digital extensions. In addition to offering exclusive rewards and giveaways on a dedicated microsite, it presented a digital version of the Klarna All-Star Vault that allowed fans to learn about the game-worn sneakers displayed on-site during All-Star Weekend, as well as purchase highly-sought-after kicks.

The brand also leveraged its app and Instagram account to digitally engage fans by letting them vote on Klarna ambassador and Bulls player Zach LaVine’s pre-tunnel look before he hit the court for the All-Star Game on Feb. 20. LaVine’s stylist curated two outfits, leaving it up to fans to vote for their favorite. Those who liked what they saw could purchase the fashion items through the Klarna app. The activity was inspired by data collected by Klarna after Washington Wizards player Kyle Kuzma’s unique pre-game outfit went viral last fall. The brand saw an increase of nearly 300 precent in purchases of men’s pink sweaters the following month—more proof of the undeniable link between basketball and fashion.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we, as well as many other brands, have found ways to continue to engage and provide more immersive experiences, even if they couldn’t be IRL,” Gokey says. “There’s such a blending now of offline and online, which we’re going to continue to see more of. And it’s why we took this hybrid approach, making sure that yes, we could truly engage on the ground with fans, but then also giving everyone that wasn’t able to be there a rich experience.” Agency: Invisible North.

Step up to the Klarna All-Star Vault:

Photo credit: Kelsey Rose

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
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