Pepsi's viral 'Uncle Drew' character goes Hollywood with feature film
- Pepsi's popular "Uncle Drew" ad campaign and titular character — an old man with impressive basketball skills played by NBA star Kyrie Irving — will become a full-length film that is scheduled for release on June 29, Ad Age reported. A trailer for the movie debuted online this week and has racked up 3.8 million views on YouTube in just two days.
- Pepsi introduced Uncle Drew in 2012 to promote Pepsi Max in a five-minute online video that quickly went viral. Parent company PepsiCo's Creators League, an in-house production agency developed in 2016 to create scripted series, films and other content, has been in talks with Temple Hill Entertainment to put Uncle Drew on the big screen, and Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment arm was also involved in the production, per Ad Age.
- The film features former NBA players Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller and Nate Robinson, and former WNBA player Lisa Leslie. Actors Milton "Lil Rel" Howery, Tiffany Haddish and Nick Kroll also make appearances. In the plot, Howery's character convinces Uncle Drew to play in a streetball tournament in Harlem, and the pair travel together to reunite Drew's former team.
Uncle Drew has been an ongoing success for Pepsi, which has created multiple videos in the series, earning hundreds of millions YouTube views and a strong social media following. Ahead of last year's NBA All-Star Weekend, the brand even launched an e-commerce site dedicated to the character, offering merchandise, behind-the-scenes footage and a catalog of fresh episodes. While it's not uncommon for marketers to ride the success of popular brand mascots and ambassadors for years at a time, producing a bonafide feature-length film for theaters with a major studio is incredibly rare.
It's unclear how prominently Pepsi itself will feature in "Uncle Drew" — a sign is visible at an outdoor basketball tournament in the trailer — but the company's name is inextricably attached to the character. The news signals the premium brands are placing on richer, Hollywood-like content marketing, in this case taken to the extreme. The teaser alone appearing on YouTube's trending page with millions of views demonstrates that there's an interest in the project from consumers, though it remains to be seen whether they'll pay out the full price of a box office ticket come June 29.
With Creators League, Pepsi has become part of growing list of big-name brands that are bringing marketing functions in-house as a way to gain more control over the creative process and to more effectively allocate budgets. Creators League was behind the notorious Kendall Jenner protest ad the brand had to pull from air in April of last year, but has seen success with other projects, including documentary efforts, according to Ad Age.