You look at it and see one thing, but inside was something different.
This is PepsiMax and this is what it is all about. In the Spring of 2012 it wasn’t a basketball player from the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder, the two teams representing the NBA Finals, that electrified the NBA world. Rather, it was an unlikely 80-year old geezer whose crossover dribbles broke ankles, and whose powerful slam dunks rattled rims. This decrepit old man’s name? Uncle Drew.
In order to provide some insight, PepsiMax is a zero-calorie, sugar-free cola, which supplies the boost of an energy drink and the taste of a soda. As a result of its hybrid nature, PepsiMax had to find a way to compete with energy drink giants like Redbull and Monster, as well as the low-calorie soda known as Coke Zero. Simple right? Not in the slightest. Because it was such an extremely competitive market, PepsiMax needed a flavorful marketing campaign, one that was bolder than the self-proclaimed taste of their cola. In their history, PepsiMax has spent billions on a series commercials with Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo and owner Jerry Jones, in addition to airtime during Super Bowl XLII and XLV, and were looking to continue their sport partnership.
Now who better to be the face of this revolutionary campaign than a white-haired, chubby old man who looks like he’d have to wake up at 5 a.m. just to make it to the retirement home breakfast hall by 9 a.m. But this was no ordinary 80-year old man, this hustler crossing up defenders and slams home jaw dropping alley-oops better than most NBA players. Plot twist! This man of mystery was none other than the 2012 Cleveland Cavaliers rookie phenom Kyrie Irving.
The Marketing Arm’s vice president of content development, Marc Gilbar, had an idea that was influenced by the 1984 “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring Eddie Murphy going undercover as a white man. So why not have some fun and do this with Irving, right? The hope was to create a campaign in which what consumers assumed at first glance wasn’t the true depiction of the product.
With the help of professional make up artists, Irving transformed into the chubby 80-year old man that we all fell in love with. Uncle Drew and his film crew hit up Clark’s Pond Courts, and the journey began. The initial 5 minute video goes as follows: A young basketball player in New Jersey brings his grey-bearded, ancient-looking Uncle Drew to the courts to enjoy some evening pickup games. At first, Uncle Drew plays like he looks – he’s barely mobile, shooting bricks, and playing like it’s amateur hour. As the game goes on, he starts to find his rhythm, begins to bang home jumpers, handles the ball like a yoyo, trash talks like a boss, and crashes the boards with thunderous dunks leaving the crowd staring in awe.
I was immediately mesmerized and hooked the first time I watched the video. The amazing thing is that the video was never intended for broadcast in the first place! But with the initial momentum that the video gained (10 million YouTube views in its first 3 weeks), PepsiMax had practically no choice but to buy prime ad time for its short mega-viral sensation. I mean, how could you pass up the opportunity to grow your baby into the potential giant that it could be. PepsiMax was able to find the media budget needed to broadcast a 30-second trailer of the original during the NBA Finals.
Statistics of the initial campaign reaction proved the online popularity of the video as 80% of viewers were still tuned in after the first 4 minutes and the hashtag #UncleDrew garnered over 10,000 mentions on Twitter, while NBA star Steve Nash and ESPN site Grantland.com were sharing the ad with their followers.
This immediate success laid the groundwork for more videos in this series. A sequel was designed featuring Kevin Love, who is referred to as Wes. Uncle Drew 2 received even more views than the original, and had a 30-second clip play during Game 1 of the NBA Finals. PepsiMax was definitely hitting all the right buttons, but wouldn’t it be wise from a marketing stance to diversify and connect with a broader consume base? Maybe feature stars from the Women’s National Basketball Association? Enter the 3rd installment to the series, featuring the likes of 3-time NBA Slam Dunk champion Nate Robinson (“Lights”) and Maya Moore, who played for college powerhouse Connecticut and in the WNBA. PepsiMax did a tremendous job diversifying by adding a female element, and included more humor between Robinson and Moore.
Uncle Drew has grown to 5 episodes and has maintained the central conceit but started to develop a sense of humor and a soul and eclipsed the surprise element from the original video. Casey Romany, PepsiCo’s Senior Manager for Local Sports Activation, has helped keep the Uncle Drew franchise fresh with new narratives and characters – Chapter 4 includes Ray Allen (“Walt”) playing H-O-R-S-E against Irving and the most recent Chapter 5 is all about Uncle Drew as he delivers a speech about what it takes to become a champion, in wake of the Cavaliers NBA championship victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Uncle Drew is a perfect example of how Pepsi looks to continue rewarding fans with fun, authentic, and exciting moments all across pop culture and sports. In addition, Pepsi embraces the spirit of youth and Uncle Drew certainly represents that with his willingness to take on any youngblood that stand in his way. One aspect of the Uncle Drew series that has been key is its ability to remain so popular with millennials by thinking of different ways to package the capture content, whether it be the witty one-liners, entertaining video clips, or key moments in each episode. The great thing about the series is that it has it all: comedy, surprise, entertainment, hoops action, and amazing personalities.
Just my two cents, the one thing that’s missing from the series thus far is an international presence for one of the sporting industries most global sport. Using an international superstar talent such as Ricky Rubio would be ideal to market PepsiMax to Europeans. Another idea is to possibly film an episode North of the border, such as Toronto, and not just because I’m Canadian! Strictly thinking about the marketing opportunities, as current film destinations have included New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. Toronto has an NBA team and would make perfect sense to market PepsiMax internationally and help target a new regional demographic.
I’m excited to see the direction that PepsiMax continues in and am eagerly awaiting the next episode, but I am wondering how much longer can Uncle Drew ball hard? I mean the geezer is 85 this year.