Hollywood Embraces the NBA Finals to Sell Its Movies

A.J. Katz wrote recently at Adweek about how much it cost companies to advertise during the NBA Finals, a series that featured LeBron James proving once more that he’s the greatest player the league has ever seen if you completely forget that Michael Jordan existed.

Ratings for the games were generally good, averaging roughly what they have in recent years, though the Championship series dropped toward the end as it became clear the Golden State Warriors were going to finish off the Cleveland Cavaliers in undramatic fashion.

While there were, of course, a wide variety of brands and industries that sought to generate interest – taking advantage of the fact that to date live sports are still largely watched live – Hollywood in particular jumped up to advertise during the games. Not only did they run commercials but in most every case the studios created unique spots that featured well-known players interacting with talent from the movies in fun and attention-getting ways.

The Equalizer 2

Sony created a mini-campaign that aired throughout the series, the most ambitious of the advertising efforts collected here.

It kicked off with a spot featuring star Denzel Washington explaining to director Anton Fuqua how he doesn’t do sequels, something that’s actually true. Instead, he suggests, the studio should audition NBA stars to take on his role.

That lead to a whole series of commercials featuring different NBA players like Dwight Howard, Lonzo Ball, Paul George and others, including one with various players offering their own catchphrase suggestions. After all that the campaign finishes off with Washington agreeing everyone else is terrible and he’s in for the movie.

Night School

The game broadcast afforded Universal an opportunity to kick off the paid TV campaign for the Kevin Hart/Tiffany Haddish comedy, where she plays the night school (natch) teacher whose class he attends so he can earn his GED and get a better job.

The spot features Hart in a classroom having one of those nightmare moments where he realizes he’s wholly unprepared for a test she’s about to administer. Showing up all around him are Karl Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge and Devin Booker, all of whom are there just to make Hart feel worse about his circumstances.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

A commercial featuring Kyle Lowry was released back in April, well before the playoffs started, but it was run during the series and was meant to promote that ahead of time. In the spot, Lowry enters a dark and empty basketball court as he talks about things that are hidden in the shadow. Him getting some practice shots in are intercut with footage from the film of a dinosaur emerging from a tunnel with a loud roar.

Hotel Artemis

In the movie-branded spot, a wounded Marcellus Wiley is joined in an elevator by Dave Bautista, who in the movie plays an orderly at the hotel that doubles as a hospital of last resort for the criminal set. Bautista explains that Wiley will be fine before abandoning him.

What Sony, Universal and Global Road seem to be trying to do is create content that gets people’s attention, not just ads that are easily skipped over. These are micro-moments that incorporate elements of influencer marketing since the idea is that the NBA players themselves are affixing their personal brand and popularity to the movies, hopefully bringing some members of their fanbase along for the ride.

That doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on Hotel Artemis, the only movie of this group currently in theaters. It grossed only $3.1 million in its opening weekend despite receiving good reviews that called out its originality and off-kilter tone, both things people claim to want more of.

Two of the four movies – Artemis and Night School – didn’t feature any actual film footage at all, an interesting tactic that may not have helped make the case for the more unusual-looking Artemis but which isn’t that surprising for Night School since the focus of that movie’s campaign to date is on Hart and Haddish, not the story. The Jurassic World spot was the most footage-heavy (though nothing that showed any of the human characters, which is also consistent with that movie’s larger campaign) and Equalizer didn’t pull it out until the very end, which makes sense.

While the NBA Finals may not be the massive cultural event of something like the Super Bowl, it’s obvious studios wanted to get at least some exposure and awareness out of a series that was predicted to be worth watching. How those ads wind up impacting the three movies still awaiting their theatrical release remains to be seen.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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