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– by Brendan Hughes

With Uncle Drew’s release, it may prove to be a turning point in Hollywood. This does not come from the artistic side of the film or even the movie itself for that matter. This change may come from who bankrolls films going into the future. As many know Uncle Drew is Kyrie Irving’s persona which is used in a variety of Pepsi commercials for their “healthy” Pepsi Max brand. With that being said, it is no surprise that PepsiCo is the one the putting the funding behind this project. If this movie is successful will we see the evolution of films coming out of commercials?

I never thought I’d see the day where prominent companies spin commercials into a feature-length film. Honestly, the sentence Pepsi is making a movie is quite puzzling as that pairs two things that you know don’t go together. Pepsi is supposed to be sold at the concession booth not at the ticket counter. However, this doesn’t stop Pepsi Productions from transcending their brand to diversify their profile. There is clearly interest in this film as Twitter is chirping about it and making the trending list though this is likely caused by the talented basketball cast.

Product placement has been around long before the first full-length film, In the Army, tracing its roots back to literary and artistic uses. In modern times it can be found practically everywhere from YouTube videos where brands give free products to popular YouTubers or films adding these subliminal messages like Power Rangers‘ implantation of Krispy Kreme. The effectiveness of product placement has been debated but the general consensus is that it works for the brands by keeping their product in the minds of the consumer. Imagine if the café from Friends, Central Perk, had been a name brand chain it likely would have increased the popularity of that chain. The evolution of the method has gone through many changes to keep up with the way media is absorbed with full-blown films possibly becoming the next trend.

Commercial used to just be prominent during the Super Bowl, but now corporations are gearing their advertisements towards the factor if they can go viral. Companies have employed the use of animals, children, and celebrities to increase the chances of people paying attention to their advertisement. The effect that viral commercials can transcend into pop culture can be seen with Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” commercials. The popularity of the saying has even gone as far as being blocked from the Professional Golfers’ Association Masters Tournament. In the case for Pepsi’s Uncle Drew adding an NBA All-Star like Kyrie Irving cemented the Pepsi Max brand with star appeal and promoted the “Maximum taste. Zero calories.” aspect. The viral factor of commercials may lead to more advertising materials to inspire their own film.

For anyone who was alive during the 90s the concept of commercials turning into media is not surprising in nontheater debuts. I am of course talking about the infamous VHS McDonald tapes known as The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald. For those who aren’t familiar with this series, consider yourself lucky, it featured the cartoon characters created by Needham, Harper & Steers when the restaurant was still marketed towards children. These characters included Ronald, Grimace, Birdie, and the Hamburglar as they interacted in different situations with subliminal messages of hamburgers and fries in the background.

This series was produced by the production company Klasky Csupo which is known for series such as Rugrats, Rocket Power, and The Wild Thornberrys. Being a Klasky Csupo production is why this glorified product placement had the look of a classic Nickelodeon show. There is not enough time, nor is this the right one, to go into all the absurdity of the series as this was used to show that commercials have inspired extended media before. The difference between Uncle Drew and The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald is that the latter was just an extended marketing campaign vs an actual product developing its own identity.

If Uncle Drew is successful, this could very well pave a pathway for future commercials to be turned into films. The chance of having audiences pay to watch product advertisement for an hour plus will sound tempting to many companies. Creating commercials that could spin out into the theatre would start with commercials that “air” online rather than traditional media. This would allow for there to be enough plot to be spun out for an extended length rather than just watching Shaq and the General take a road trip. Companies would not create their own studio but contract their projects out like Pepsi is doing. Pepsi contracted the production of their upcoming film to Temple Hill Entertainment which is known for Twilight, The Fault in Our Stars, and Power Rangers. These partnerships between brands and production company could pop up soon given the tempting idea of adding projects like Uncle Drew.

However, this trend may not happen because of the lack of interest in watching a 90-minute film about commercials. If I had to sit through a feature-length film centered around the GEICO gecko that would be torture. These commercials are mildly amusing but the intended purpose was never to extend them out for any longer than a minute watch. Commercials also do not have the plot needed to extend past their 30-second run length, though the migration to nontraditional media could change this. A celebrity roster can only go so far in making a product watchable as it still wouldn’t the mask the fact that these films are product placement.

Commercials that are becoming films may be soon coming to a theater near you. Pepsi’s Uncle Drew is the first advertisement to be given a full-length feature thanks to sports celebrity Kyrie Irving. McDonald’s was the first to spin out commercials into longer media forms with Klasky Csupo’s The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald though this was via direct-to-video VHS tapes. In order for advertisements to develop the needed plot to extend 90 minutes, the commercials need to move to past the 30 second ad time. Product placement has been around long before film and has adapted as time changed to keep up with media intake and Uncle Drew’s approach is possibly the next step. However, the question remains if advertisements should be turned into feature-length films. The answer to that may differ on a case to case basis because while Uncle Drew could be decent no one wants to watch Cap’n Crunch: High Tide.

Let us know your thoughts. Would you watch Cap’n Crunch: High Tide?

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