How Amazon Studios has sold the story of a milestone consumer product
It would be hard to think of a product that more fully transformed a category and instantly became iconic than Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers. This week’s new release Air tells the story of how those sneakers were developed.
Matt Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, a salesman hired by Nike co-founders Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) and Rob Strasser (Jason Batman) to create a new product to help save the company from looming bankruptcy. With little to lose, Vaccaro has the idea to create a shoe centered around a single athlete. He ultimately picks Michael Jordan, at the time barely even a rookie with the Chicago Bulls. Vaccaro has to overcome internal concerns he is betting the company’s future on an unknown player, but history has shown he made the right call.
Viola Davis and Julius Tennon (Davis’ actual husband) costar as Jordan’s parents, who are the ones approached by Nike to approve the product and deal while Marlon Wayans and Chris Messina also star as others in Jordan’s orbit.
Affleck directed the movie, which was written by Alex Convery. It hit theaters today in advance of Easter weekend so let’s take a look at how it’s been sold by Amazon Studios.
announcement and casting
Amazon Studios acquired the project, which Convery had written, in April, 2022. Affleck and Damon were attached to star at that time, with Affleck already planning to direct the film.
Davis, Bateman, Chris Tucker and others were added to the cast in early June, 2022.
Amazon had originally planned to release the movie directly to its own streaming service but news came in February of this year that, based on positive early reviews, it would first get an exclusive theatrical run
the marketing campaign
Following the news of Amazon’s shift in release plans the movie’s marketing campaign kicked off in early February at a much bigger scale than anticipated.
That started with the first trailer (98,000 YouTube plays). It starts by establishing the dire straits Nike found itself in during the early 1980s as it couldn’t get over the “cool” advantage held by rival Converse. So Vaccaro comes in and wants to take a long shot with the North Carolina rookie player, but first has to convince both his bosses and Jordan’s parents (and agents and others) that it’s the right thing for everyone to do. The story is sold here as one man’s vision being met with skepticism by those around him, with the audience aware that it all turns out just fine.
That was followed in short order by an extended TV spot that aired during the Super Bowl broadcast. It hits largely the same beats seen in the trailer but with different music and in about half the running time.
In the first of what would be many promotional efforts centered around NBA games, Affleck provided the celebrity player intros at the Celebrity Game during All Star Weekend in mid-February. He also discussed the movie at a press conference with sports journalists in attendance. Affleck later took part in a discussion with basketball legend Bill Walton during a Celtics game later in the month.
Stills of the primary cast from the film are arranged on the first poster, which touts the film’s exclusive theatrical run.
A feature profile of Affleck touched on why he and Damon chose to make this movie the first production from Artists Equity, the new company they founded recently, as well as the reason Jordan himself isn’t seen in the film. There’s also plenty of non-movie talk about memes, his personal life and more.
In mid-March Amazon announced the movie’s premiere would take place at SXSW, where it would serve as the festival’s closing-night feature. That event had the entire cast in attendance, most of whom talked about the fun they had making the movie, why they signed on and more.
Around the same time both Damon and Affleck appeared on “CBS Sunday Morning” to discuss this film, their new production company and their long history of working together. There was also a profile of Davis that included the tidbit that Jordan specifically requested she play his mother when he was approached for his approval.
Davis, Affleck and Damon all promoted the movie on “GMA” and the latter two did likewise in additional talk show appearances over the last couple weeks.
There was also attention paid to this being Tucker’s first movie since 2016. At the SXSW premiere he explained that his casting as Nike’s Howard White came about thanks to the combination of Jordan requesting his friend White be portrayed in the film and Affleck’s desire to work with Tucker.
The press tour began with a screening and Q&A in New York followed by a similar event in Los Angeles and then Atlanta.
Short spots like this were running as all this was going on, used on both TV and as pre-roll online.
A series of character posters was released later in March that showcased most all the major actors, again using stills from the film with quotes from that character overlaid on the photo.
Fashion company Bricks & Wood held a special screening in Los Angeles hosted by Tucker.
Everyone, including other stars and celebrities connected to those in the movie, was in attendance for the official L.A. premiere red carpet, which actually featured a recreated basketball court look.
That was followed by appearances by Affleck and others from the cast on “Kimmel”, where they both promoted the movie and shared in the long-running feud between the host and Damon.
Mercedes-Benz sponsored the premiere and later made a little bit of a fuss around its inclusion as a plot point in the movie.
It was announced earlier in the month but at the end of March Amazon teamed with Jason Markk, a big name in sneaker culture, for some guerrilla marketing efforts in a variety of cities around the country where people could get tips on caring for their shoes and more.
A group interview with most of the cast had them all talking about eagerly signing on for the film, what it was like to portray the real people involved in the creation of the shoe brand and more. Later on another profile of Tucker explained how his casting came about and what it meant to the story.
Clips were released in the last few days showing Vaccaro and White having a heart-to-heart, Vaccaro calling Strasser as he’s about to talk with Jordan’s parents and more.
There are some issues with the individual elements of the campaign, especially how the poster design is distinctly lacking in artistry or imagination. But on the whole the marketing is quite fun, benefiting greatly from how well Affleck and others have sold it as a very personal project and the positive word of mouth it’s built up from early screenings.
The projections of a $18 million extended opening weekend reflect that, as it could have been a lot lower given the state of the current box office and that the theatrical run seems designed for both awards consideration later on and to hopefully take advantage of the popularity of the product around which the story is centered.
picking up the spare
Damon appeared on “The Tonight Show”, “Late Night” and elsewhere to continue talking about the movie, working with Affleck again and more.
There were also more interviews with screenwriter Alex Convery, including a couple about how the filmmakers got Jordan’s sign-off on the story.