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.

no sudden move – marketing recap

How Warner Bros. is selling the latest heist film from one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors.

Of the high profile directors working today perhaps none has embraced streaming quite like Steven Soderbergh. After putting out two movies for Netflix in 2019, this week brings his second straight film for HBO Max.

No Sudden Move focuses on a group of small-time criminals in 1955 who are hired by a mysterious party to steal corporate documents. They recruit a reluctant insider to actually nab the goods, with some of the crooks sent to his home to keep his family in check. But when the job goes sideways they set out to find out who it was that hired them and why.

The movie stars Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin, Benicio del Toro and others as the criminals, David Harbour as the executive marked to actually steal the documents, Amy Seimetz as his wife Mary and Jon Hamm as the Detroit city detective assigned to investigate the crime. With a solid 87% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie’s campaign has been heavy on the kind of stylized filmmaking that Soderbergh is known for.

The Posters

“Trust is a setup” we’re told on the one poster (by marketing agency The Refinery). Shown are Goynes and Russo, two of the criminals at the center of the plot played by Cheadle and del Toro. The rest of the notable cast is named at the top of the one-sheet, but the overall design is very simple and moody, setting a dark and shadowy tone for the movie more than anything else.

The Trailers

A brief teaser in late May preceded the first trailer’s release, which didn’t happen until early June.

That trailer (238,000 views on YouTube) is all about selling an attitude and a vibe. It conveys the story of how the criminals are A) convincing a mid-level auto executive to steal company secrets while B) the gang watches over the exec’s family to make sure they don’t do anything stupid and he knows what the consequences for not cooperating are. As usual, everything turns pear-shaped in a flurry of irrational behavior, divided loyalties, law enforcement investigation and other factors, but what’s clear is that this is another stylized Soderbergh production that looks fantastic.

Online and Social

The signed-out landing page for the movie on HBO Max’s site has some very basic information, including a collection of cast headshots, a small gallery of stills and the trailer.

Advertising, Press and Publicity

Casting news dominated much of the press for a while. In late September production, previously delayed because of the pandemic, resumed at the same time the movie was renamed from its original “Kill Switch” to the current title.

HBO Max and Warner Bros. confirmed in May that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the 2021 Tribeca Festival. At that premiere the cast was interviewed about the movie itself as well as the uncertain nature of the production.

Harbour promoted the film when he appeared on “Late Night” in June.

A profile of Seimetz focused on how she has bounced between acting and writing/directing her own material over her career, including how she steals the show in this film.

While it’s not actually press for the film, Alissa Wilkinson at Vox explores some of the very real social issues, including housing discrimination, highway construction and more, that inform the movie’s setting, action and characters.

Online ads like the one below were used to drive traffic to the HBO Max landing page for the film.

Warner Bros. partnered with Shinola Detroit on a sweepstakes awarding the winner a trip to Detroit’s Shinola Hotel. The company also created a movie-inspired line of handbags, watches and other apparel.

An interview with screenwriter Ed Solomon emphasized how he and Soderbergh sought to construct a story the audience would have to follow closely if they wanted to get the full experience of the payoff.

Short spots like this were used on social media (and likely elsewhere), presenting a cutdown version of the trailer that continues selling the movie as a high-drama heist story with a great cast.

HBO Max released a featurette with the cast talking about the complex nature of that story and the unique filmmaking aesthetic of Soderbergh.

Overall

What I said above really encapsulates the campaign from Warner Bros./HBO Max: Everything about the campaign is focused on presenting it as a dramatic, tense heist film with a great cast portraying characters who are always just one move away from turning on their compatriots.

Adding to that is the brand Soderbergh has for himself as a director who dabbles in seemingly every possible sub-genre and style. If you told me tomorrow he was directing a remake of The Music Man it wouldn’t surprise me at all. The point being that his involvement in and of itself is a big draw for the movie, which is why his name is so prominent throughout the campaign.