LOS ANGELES — Turns out, Kobe Bryant’s early-morning workouts are fueled both by his legendary drive and stick upon stick of botanical, citrus-infused, moisture-wicking, odor-blocking antiperspirant.
“The number of phone calls I’ve had from Kobe to say that he’s out of deodorant and to send him more is just shocking to me,” Matthias Metternich, an LA-based entrepreneur, told The Crossover. “I don’t know how much he’s wearing, but he’s wearing a lot of it.”
For his latest venture since retiring in 2016 after 20 seasons with the Lakers, Bryant has teamed with Metternich and Brian Lee to launch “Art of Sport,” a start-up company that sells body care products like deodorant, soap, and sunscreen that are marketed to athletes. The products bear sports-centric names like “Compete,” “Rise” and “Challenge,” and will be sold directly to consumers online.
NBA MVP James Harden, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cubs infielder Javier Baez are among the professional athletes that appear in the company’s promotional materials. Bryant, however, is more than just a product-tester or an endorser. While speaking to a small group of reporters at the Lakers’ practice facility in mid-September, the five-time champion and AOS founding partner explained his central role in crafting the company’s branding and messaging.
“When I played, I had a day job,” Bryant, 40, explained. “In between games, I’d write and think and create stories, some of which were brand-related. Storytelling has always been a central part of my life. With AOS, the exciting part has been deciding how we use our messaging to connect with athletes across the world.
“We’re speaking to the athlete through our communication and we’re connecting to the spirit of the game. The important thing in building a brand for athletes is making sure the messaging and the story touches on the emotional components and the spirit associated with a great soccer match or basketball game. The product shouldn’t only benefit you from a physical standpoint, there should be an emotional and inspirational benefit too.”
According to the company’s executives, AOS is launching into existing product markets that total more than $14 billion in annual sales. While there are plenty of well-known brands in the space, including many that advertise “Sport” products, AOS believes that its singular focus on athletes sets it apart.
“I grew up with a brand like Nike that was born for sport,” Metternich said. “When I think of a sports brand in skincare, companies like Coppertone, Livia, and Neutrogena don’t come to mind. Our research has indicated that products that label ‘Sport’ on the package can significantly outsell the same brand’s standard product lineup because consumers feel that more care and attention is put into those products. But what is that company’s affiliation to sports? If you’re not as dedicated to athletes as we are, that ‘Sport’ nomenclature can ring hollow.”
AOS has sought to include feedback from professional athletes, including Bryant, in its research and development process. Motocross rider Ken Roczen chimed in on on the company’s pain cream while he recovered from a broken arm. Professional surfer Sage Erickson put the sunscreen to the test.
In hopes of establishing instant credibility with both athletes and general consumers who are drawn to the athletic lifestyle, AOS tapped Bryant for his experience playing in the NBA and pitching products, including his Nike sneakers and Body Armor sports drink.
Metternich said that Bryant focused their marketing plan on a vision of “timeless excellence presented in a fresh and modern way.” He preferred, and later coined, product names that served as motivational calls to action, and he insisted that AOS avoid advertising that was too heavy on pop culture references and memes. Indeed, AOS’s early promotional materials reflect his vision: endorsers hold the products while wearing comfortable athletic apparel and standing in front of a classic monochromatic backdrop.
“The Lakers are about to start a season and the most fun part is trying to put the puzzle together,” Bryant said. “How do you shape and mold this team to eventually be what you expect them to be? That’s what it’s like starting a company at this stage. Putting the pieces to the puzzle together. Making sure things are in alignment so that the company grows the way we think it can grow.”
For true devotees of the Mamba Mentality—diehards who want to fight armpit odor like their idol—Bryant said that his favorite AOS product is the “Compete” deodorant. The product’s scent, according to the company, draws on “citrus, green pear and hints of spring leaves.”
“I get up at 4 a.m. and get to work,” Bryant said. “That same competitive spirit is what we’re trying to do with this brand. To compete with ourselves to create the products that we feel are the best that we can make.”