The first time I saw JaVale McGee jump, I was hooked. Let me explain: McGee, who plays center for the Denver Nuggets, is 7 feet tall and he can leap, as they say, out of the building. It was evident in his college days at Nevada. It was evident in his first five seasons as a pro. It was evident in the 2011 Slam Dunk contest, when he became the first participant to dunk three balls in a single jump.

I'm far from the only fan of McGee's talents. Just ask any one of his 122,706 followers of @JaValeMcGee34 on Twitter.

Parlaying a Fandom Into a Business

The power of this social media audience recently manifested itself when one of McGee's favorite subjects to tweet about--the importance of drinking enough water every day--became the basis for a startup

Many fans bemoan the thug life of some players in the N.B.A., and McGee's answer to it is Jug Life. His goal every day is to drink a gallon of water in 12 hours. His passion for Jug Life and his love of Twitter have turned into a bit of a phenomenon, with fans taking photographs of themselves with their own emptied-out milk containers full of water, tagged #JUGLIFE. McGee retweets many, if not all of them.

All this activity led to McGee's starting a business called #JugLife, which sells knitted hats and foam signs sporting the #JugLife hashtag. A company spokesman told the Times that there are also plans to introduce a reusable jug--once the company figures out what material is best. In addition, some of the money raised through merchandise sales will get siphoned toward a nonprofit promoting clean drinking water.

An Initial Base of Customers, and Brand Positioning

Though it's too early to tell how successful McGee's startup will be, this much is certain: His impassioned following gives him a viable platform--something around which he can build an initial customer base. As the Times points out, his Twitter feed is filled with photos sent in by his followers, depicting themselves drinking water from their own jugs. To spend 10 minutes following his feed can make you feel like you're witnessing the birth of a movement. 

But is it reasonable to believe that some of those followers would buy McGee's jugs? So much depends on pricing and marketing. But McGee already has one advantage. And that is--aptly enough for a basketball player--his positioning. For my money, the #juglife hashtag has an ineffable appeal. In a single seven-letter compound word, it simultaneously brands its wearers as streetwise and socially conscious. And who wouldn't want to be branded with those labels?

Fans of McGee, I'm guessing, will board the bandwagon. I know I will. 

Published on: Jan 8, 2014