space jam: a new legacy – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. has sold the sequel to what might be Hollywood’s cynical pinnacle.

The idea that there might be a sequel to 1996’s Space Jam, which paired the recently retired Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes characters Warner Bros. was hoping to revitalize, has been swirling around for quite a while.

This week the prophecy is finally fulfilled as Space Jam: A New Legacy comes to HBO Max and theaters. This time around LeBron James is the NBA superstar at the center of the story, forced to play basketball after his son Dom (Cedric Joe) is kidnapped by the evil A.I. Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) that runs Warner Bros.’ computer system. James recruits the Looney Tunes to help him, with hijinks ensuing as they face off against the Goon Squad team of avatars assembled by the A.I.

Warner Bros.’ campaign for the movie, which currently has a poor 45% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has been heavy on IP, using it as the key selling point for the audience to connect with.

The Posters

Character posters (by marketing agency BOND) were released in late March and featured James as well as many of the more well-known Looney Tunes characters like Bugs, Tweety, Lola, Daffy and others. Each is very simply placed in front of a red/blue background so there’s not a lot of action but you definitely are reminded of who will appear in the film.

The next poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out just a few days later, this one showing James and Bugs standing in front of the title like they’re waiting to head out on the basketball court.

In May more character posters (by Works Adv) came out, this batch focusing on the Goon Squad and taking a much more visually-interesting approach, putting each one against what almost looks like street art.

James – and Tweety, of course – soar above the rest of the Looney Tunes on the next poster, released in June.

The final theatrical poster came out in mid-June and just has James standing in

The Trailers

The first trailer came out in early April, announced by a teaser announcement. It starts with LeBron talking with his son, who is promptly sucked into another dimension, with LeBron following soon after that. An evil AI tells him he has to play basketball in order to get Dom back, resulting in LeBron meeting Bugs and the rest of the team, who assemble to help him out. They’re up against the Goon Squad, but the Tunes have a few tricks up their sleeves.

The same basic message is conveyed in the second trailer from June, though with a few additional or changed details.

Online and Social

You’ll find the basic marketing content as well as some games to play on the movie’s official website. There were also social profiles on the major networks.

Of course you can’t discuss a Space Jam website without noting that, for 25 years, the page for the first movie was oddly and stubbornly still around on the internet, offering a time capsule of what late-90s web design encompassed. That site is no longer at the domain it was for over two decades but has been archived on the updated page.

There were also sticker packs created for Giphy, iMessage and WhatsApp.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

After seemingly endless years of speculation, the movie moving into production was finally confirmed in September 2018 along with the primary filmmaking team.

After a long period of speculation, James revealed the movie’s official title in April of last year, sharing a video of him wearing a hat sporting the title treatment.

Differences that emerged during the early stages of production lead to initial director Terence Nance to be replaced by Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee in mid-July 2020.

A few months later in August he previewed the new uniforms that were going to be worn by the Tune Squad in the film.

One of the first, albeit very brief, looks at the movie came via an HBO Max promo touting the same day theatrical/streaming availability of WB’s 2021 lineup.

Moving into 2021, a March cover story in EW offered comments from James, details on the story and first looks at the characters, including a redesigned Lola Bunny.

A small, overblown kerfluffle emerged back in March when reports emerged Pepe Le Pew, a problematic at best character, would not appear in the movie, nor was he part of WB’s future Looney Tunes plans. There were conflicting accounts of whether the skunk was included in early cuts of the movie or not, but costar Santo seemed to confirm he did, offering to pay the studio for the cut footage of their scenes together.

[full disclosure: space jam advertised on GoNoodle, my employer, but I was minimally involved in the promotion of that content.]

News that Zendaya had been cast to voice Lola Bunny came just before the first trailer dropped.

After the first trailer came out a video was released showing some of the hidden (and obvious) references and cameos in that trailer.

Cheadle talked about shooting the movie with James when he appeared on “Kimmel” in May.

Also that month the first commercial, which features some of the funnier moments from the trailer, came out.

We Win” by Lil Baby and Kirk Franklin was released in late May, offering the first song from the movie’s soundtrack.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Microsoft/Xbox, which has been involved since late 2020, offering teachers and students – access to STEM lessons hosted by James, who also appeared in a promotional video for the partnership.
  • I PROMISE School, which is part of James’ personal foundation and which has hosted first look events and more throughout the campaign.
  • Nike, which launched a new line of shoes and other apparel featuring movie branding. That included the LeBron 19
  • Candy Crush, which added a movie character takeover to the game.
  • Skype (part of Microsoft), which added movie-themed backgrounds for your video calls.

And of course all of that doesn’t even cover the various consumer merchandise offered to appeal to consumers of all kinds.

A Cartoon Network promo has the Nerdlucks from the first movie steal the powers of the “Teen Titans Go!” characters to hilarious — and in Robin’s case embarrassing — results. That was part of the promotions for “The Teen Titans Go! See Space Jam”, which had the team offering Pop-Up Video style commentary on the original film.

For ESPN there was a faux mini-documentary produced that had James talking about how he needed to team up with the Looney Tunes characters to save his son. The video is presented straight, just like one of ESPN’s other specials, and is the better for it.

More details about the movie’s soundtrack and what artists were contributing to it were shared in mid-June.

The first official clip was shared with Fandango MovieClips at the end of June, showing Speedy, Granny and others going full Matrix.

Another fake documentary type video had James and Bugs Bunny talking about what kind of teammate the other one is, getting into a debate about who’s the GOAT.

DC got another exclusive clip, this time of James and Bugs entering the world of super heroes, though why they turned into Batman & Robin when they were visiting Metropolis is unclear.

Warner Bros. hosted a screening party for the movie at Six Flags California in late June. Later on there was a fan screening in Los Angeles.

A featurette had James along with Ryan Coogler and others talking about the visual style of the movie and more.

James stopped by “Kimmel” – guest-hosted by Arsenio Hall – and then “Good Morning America” to talk about the movie.

The L.A. premiere earlier this week featured appearances by much of the cast and crew.

James, sporting his Tune Squad uniform, was added as a playable character in Fortnite.

Overall

It’s remarkable that the campaign reminds me less of the original Space Jam and more of Ready Player One from a few years ago. That’s because the focus is less on Bugs, Daffy and the craziness of the Looney Tunes and more on the brand synergy Warner Bros. has brought to the movie, bringing in IP from across the company’s portfolio.

Basketball Tune Squad GIF by Space Jam - Find & Share on GIPHY

That contributes to what is a disappointingly lackluster marketing effort, one that is so busy making sure all the cameo characters and settings are given their due that the core elements don’t get much time in the spotlight. The movie looks like some amount of fun, but you don’t have a very strong brand identity because there are scores of other brands that are more important.

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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