The 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend hit Los Angeles like a tornado this year. Everyone from Nike and Adidas to the NBA itself wanted to throw sick events and get some attention.
But for Beats, the weekend had an extra edge. The company and its founders have deep roots in L.A. The attitude from the brand’s perspective was that everyone was coming to our home turf, so we’d better do something unforgettable.
Since the revamping of Beats by Dre’s internal Brand Design team, which was created to function as an internal agency, this was perhaps the most fully 360-degree campaign yet developed, all without an agency partner. The work was months in the making and had multiple moving parts.
The project spanned a unique visual identity, storytelling, video, social, OOH, media buys, custom products and packaging, personalized athlete seeding, and three days of special events, including a record store takeover and a private party with Migos (who just happened to grace the cover of Rolling Stone that same week, coincidentally).
From the start our creative director had wanted an L.A.-based artist to help design the custom Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones, focusing on graffiti artists who defined the city’s culture and style to this day.
Defer was a natural choice. As a founding member of Kill 2 Succeed and the Bomb Squad in the 1980s, his writing represents the graffiti lettering style and street art that’s now endemic to Los Angeles. He’s since gone on to become a distinguished fine artist, evolving his style to elaborate murals with his spiritual language, which he describes being rooted in obliterated letterforms.
For this project, Defer began by writing the names of iconic L.A. neighborhood in his own writing style. The lettering he created by Defer formed the design of the custom Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones, which would be seeded to select athletes and other friends of Beats. Each custom pair came in a personalized box emblazoned with the player’s name and number, also in Defer’s writing.
To give the full story behind the custom designs and insight into Defer’s work, we also included a mini-book with background on the weekend in L.A., his history in the city, and beautiful photography of his pieces.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Defer for the booklet, diving into everything from his early graffiti days, to how much L.A. has changed, to the music scene (he saw Dr. Dre spin at a roller rink and saw N.W.A. live), and of course to his work and his approach to art and creativity.
The material we discussed during our long conversation ended up informing the structure and story of the short film below that Beats commissioned about Defer, directed by the brilliant Estevan Oriol (another iconic artist in the L.A. creative scene) and edited all in-house.
With Defer’s scriptwriting forming the basis of the custom headphones, we built a whole campaign around his distinct L.A. lettering. I thought it would be great to build something around “L.A.” itself, and found a perfect word: PLAY.
From the game being played in L.A. for All-Star Weekend, to the idea of playing music (what Beats is all about), and even the idea of coming to our city to play for a weekend of fun, it was so simple and versatile that we rolled with it, making PLAY the foundation of the campaign.
Beats had planned a private party that Saturday at Avenue in Hollywood, but took things a step further by taking over the Record Parlour directly across the street for a few days leading up to it. We converted the store into a Beats popup, letting guests go crate-diving for free vinyl albums and getting custom merchandise.
We also arranged an artist panel on Friday afternoon, with artist/writer/director Aaron Rose (Beautiful Losers) moderating a discussion about art, L.A., and music with Defer, the photographer/director Estevan Oriol, and the photographer/director Mike Miller (another L.A. heavyweight).
On the walls all long the block outside and on the Record Parlour’s windows, Defer live-painted jaw-dropping murals over the weekend as guests were lining up and coming in. Mike Miller was inside taking photos of guests, with live L.A. DJs spinning for the party.
And here’s another great recap of the weekend from Complex Music:
Oh and of course there was a custom Apple Music Playlist for All-Star Weekend.
This whole project was something else. I’m especially grateful for the chance to meet Defer, Mike Miller, and Aaron Rose.
Infinite gratitude to the kind folks at Beats for making work so much fun.