This week, history was made in the Land. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship, ending Cleveland’s 52-year drought and bringing happiness, glory, and 1.3 million people to our city on the lake. I was lucky enough to see the excitement of game seven firsthand. When the buzzer went off in the fourth quarter, the city exploded. It was louder and more intense than anything I’ve ever witnessed: screams, tears, drinks flying, hugging, dancing, shirts waving, and high fives all around. As I walked from my viewing spot to Quicken Loans Arena, chants of “Let’s Go Cavs!” echoed across the streets. This was only the beginning.

On Wednesday, Cleveland hosted the championship parade. The scene downtown during game seven was nothing compared to the parade and rally—bringing an estimated 1.3 million people to a city with a population around 300,000. With fans swarming the streets and blocking the parade routes it took more than five hours for the team to make it through a one-mile parade route to the rally zone near the Convention Center. Confetti sprinkled the famous Cleveland skyline and people scaled buildings and sat outside windows stories high just to get a glimpse of our championship team. It was an extreme outpouring of love for them and the city of Cleveland.

You might be wondering what this has to do with advertising. Cleveland fans spend days allowing this team in their living rooms, bars and restaurants. They watched the team evolve with LeBron, without LeBron, and were there with tears and celebrations for “the return.” As a city, they got so close to the championship they could finally taste it. Their faith was tested. And this week, they rejoiced in celebration after emotionally counting down the minutes waiting for them to succeed or fail during sixteen long games. It’s a great story. It’s a Cleveland story.

And storytelling is essential to advertising. There are many forms of storytelling, but the Cleveland Cavaliers perfectly followed the narrative of The Hero’s Journey. Quickly, the Hero’s Journey begins in the ordinary world with a “call to adventure” (enter the NBA, win your hometown that championship.) What follows is the hero’s “refusal of the call” (I’m taking my talents to South Beach) and eventually a “meeting with a mentor” (The Heat) who provides the hero with training and advice to help them on their journey. Then, they “cross the threshold” (welcome home LeBron) and “find allies and enemies” (love and hate in Cleveland fans). They “prepare for the ordeal” (…twice) and finally take possession of the treasure! (2016 Champions!) The “road back” (flight home from California with Cleveland’s most prized-possession) and the “resurrection” (a moment of rebirth, once again the King of CLE.) Finally, “the return” (not that one), where the hero returns home and has the power to transform the world as we know it (1.3 million people waiting to see LeBron, his team and our trophy.)

1.3 million people arrived to celebrate with this team because they’ve been a part of their story; they’ve watched the 2016 NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers brand be built—52 years in the making. They care.

We’ve entered the era of consumer empowerment. Brands need to do more than communicate outwardly to their audience. They need to tell stories, entertain, educate, inspire and touch lives.

The Cavaliers team does an exemplary job at delivering what the audience wants. They give us a great product to watch on the court but extend the story off the court as well. By utilizing social media we have an opportunity to be a part of their lives both on the court and at home. They’ve shown us the celebrations, created inside jokes with us (Lil’ Kev), and let us see the world from their perspective. We get to experience this story through the players’ eyes.

Our involvement allows this Hero’s Journey to resonate with us deeper than most. We’ve invested ourselves in this team, and it’s become a part of us. We felt the anguish watching the buzzer slowly count down, we crowded the streets in celebration as the team flooded the court, and we cried with JR as he gave a heartfelt speech about playing for his family. The emotional rollercoaster is what connects us with this team, and motivates us for the future.

The Cavaliers team has told its story. Through them, we’re encouraged empower ourselves and write our own story. It’s our call to action – show that no matter our struggles, Cleveland is a success story. How will you respond?

 

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Big thanks to my editor, Kelly Gentile.

 

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