Hollywood has adapted comic books, video games…even emojis for the big screen. Now it’s mining a new source of material: Commercials.
While movies based on TV commercials are fairly unusual it’s not like characters originating there haven’t been adapted for other media before. Remember Cavemen, based on the Geico ad characters? How about The California Raisins Show? Baby Bob?
It’s not that TV ads haven’t found their way to the big screen before, it’s just that the trip is exceedingly rare, with only two examples being readily apparent:
- Johnny English – While the 2003 film and its sequel weren’t directly based on a commercial, Rowan Atkinson did essentially originate the inept spy character in a series of advertisements for Barclaycard in the U.K., changing only a few details but keeping the essence intact.
- Earnest – If you came of age in the mid-80s you were well aware of Jim Varney’s Earnest character, a rubber-faced goof who was constantly pestering his neighbor Vern. The character made the leap to film in a series of ridiculous films where he went to camp, went to space, saved Christmas and so on.
Added to this list will be this week’s release of Uncle Drew. The feature film is based on a series of Pepsi MAX commercials that have been running consistently since 2012 starring NBA player Kyrie Irving, who reprises the role of an aged basketball legend with a few tricks still up his sleeve. Joining him are other basketball superstars including Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller. It’s unclear how much of a presence Pepsi will have in the film since the character was conceived by Irving and the spots written and directed by him as well. Some signage can be seen in the trailer, but that’s it.
The marketing already is taking advantage of the celebrity of the names involved. In addition to O’Neal, Irving and Miller there’s Lisa Leslie, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson who all play aged players recruited to help Uncle Drew win a street basketball tournament. All are featured in the trailer and a series of character posters presenting them as bobble-head figures have been released.
TV spots have been run both by Lionsgate and Pepsi, with the latter showing the changing look of the title character over the years. The studio’s included one that played like a basic cable attorney’s commercial, one that focused on the stars of screen and court that had been assembled and a few more. There was also a sponsorship of a popular Overwatch esports league where the players wore Uncle Drew-branded jerseys, a nod to how audience demographics are shifting and more attention being paid to online channels like Twitch than cable networks like ESPN.
When you think about it, it only seems sensible that feature films would be the next evolution of content marketing. Sure, they’re a bit more expensive, but the potential rewards are also that much greater. If a brand is already integrating – or planning to integrate – TV spots with social media with a short-form YouTube series with influencer marketing and so on, why not take the leap to the big screen?
With that in mind, let’s think about what other commercial characters might provide the material for their own movie.
Dezzy (Michael B. Jordan) has a big day ahead of him, including a new client pitch at the ad agency he works at, a pitch that’s happening just after lunch. When his two stoner roommates Paul (Miles Teller) and Becca (Karen Gillan) finally wake up at 9am and see Dezzy left both his lunch and his wallet at home they know the day won’t go well. See, he gets irritable and angry when he doesn’t eat for too long. While his office is only a few miles away, the two hours it takes them to get him a Snickers bar are filled with misadventures, missed connections and a lot of laughs.
When a bottle washes up on the beach Greg (Sam Rockwell) is walking on he picks it up and throws it in a nearby garbage can, too lost in the regrets of his own recent divorce to give it a second thought. He’s surprised when he wakes up the next morning and finds Flo in his kitchen organizing cabinets, making grocery lists and more. She explains her spirit had been locked in that bottle for over 200 years, the result of a disagreement over advice she’d offered Aaron Burr that had been soundly ignored. When the bottle broke as Greg threw it in the garbage, she was pledged to help him get his life together, including saving a ton on car insurance.
Yes, Mars (Spike Lee) has already been seen on screen in She’s Gotta Have It, but it’s time for him to get his own solo feature. Nike has made a major announcement: A new model of Air Jordans will be coming soon. The catch? Only six pairs are being produced and they are being hidden in ordinary boxes for another, standard Nike line. Mars is determined to get at least one of those limited edition pairs and so assembles a crack team of informants and spies to track them down, resulting in wild, adventure-filled chases across the country.
Michelle Likes It
She still lives with his parents, but that’s by choice. At least that’s what Michelle (Natasha Leggero) tells herself. But she has plans, which at the moment include amassing five million YouTube subscribers where, within some semblance of reason, she tries to eat whatever her fans suggest. Everything is graded on a simple scale: Either Michelle likes it or Michelle doesn’t like it. Her frustrated boyfriend is tired of taking her to the E.R, where the nurses have stopped charging her to have her stomach pumped because it’s too much paperwork, and wants her to commit, move out and get a real job. Will Michelle like being a grownup?
Cindy (Cindy Crawford) has just found out there’s a whole branch of her family she had never heard of and never knew existed. With her own kids grown and out of the house, she’s no longer tied down and so decides to drive across the country and chronicle her journey of self-discovery on Instagram, using #CindyDrives to collect her memories. She needs a hook, though, something special. While mapping out the drive, her best friend (June Diane Raphael) remarks on how she always has a never-ending supply of Pepsi in the fridge, inspiring Cindy to commit to taking a selfie of her drinking a Pepsi at every stop she makes along the way.
The Cool Rancher
OK, this isn’t based on any one campaign, but if we can get a movie about the life of the guy who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos then we can *certainly* get a movie about the origins of the *actual* greatest snack chip of all time. Don’t @ me.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.