One of the leading branded entertainment franchises—Pepsi’s series of long-form commercials starring Uncle Drew (played by NBA star Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers)—is back after a two-year break with a new episode and a new call to action.
This time around, viewers are invited to join the Pepsi Pass rewards program to win limited edition Kyrie Irving x Uncle Drew Nike Kyrie 1 basketball shoes, Pepsi Uncle Drew x Nike hoodies, Kyrie bobblehead dolls and other swag.
The series—introduced in 2012 by Omnicom’s Davie Brown Entertainment, the branded entertainment agency that’s now part of The Marketing Arm, to promote Pepsi Max, Pepsi’s “zero-calorie cola in disguise”—has evolved far beyond its original “gotcha” twist of making NBA star Irving look like a lethargic, elderly man and then putting him on a public basketball court to outplay unsuspecting players.
Over the subsequent two episodes, Uncle Drew has maintained the central conceit but developed a sense of humor and a soul and transcended the surprise element.
It’s a contrast to Pepsi’s other wildly successful viral stunt videos with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon. While the Gordon virals garnered millions of views, they were engaging one-offs, not quite reaching the tone, atmosphere and consistent through-line the Uncle Drew series has maintained.
“Uncle Drew” 2 added a sidekick with Kevin Love. “Uncle Drew” 3 added a woman with Maya Moore (plus Nate Robinson!) Now “Uncle Drew” 4 adds Ray Allen, Baron Davis and JB Smoove. All the while, Kyrie Irving remains the star of the series.
In chapter four, Irving goes up against “Walt” (Allen) in a game of H-O-R-S-E in Miami. Spectators (some of them drinking Pepsi) were told they were being filmed as part of a “basketball documentary.”
Casey Romany, PepsiCo’s Senior Manager for Local Sports Activation, is helping refresh the Uncle Drew franchise, which started when the first Pepsi Max video dropped in 2012 (it’s been attached to the flagship Pepsi brand since episode 2).
We spoke with Romany about how this new episode continues the journey, how Pepsi is keeping the narrative and characters fresh, and whether we can expect a fifth chapter.
brandchannel: With its widespread popularity and recognition, is Uncle Drew getting harder to stage with Kyrie Irving? Even in makeup and costume, everyone must know what’s up as soon as some older black gentlemen show up on a basketball court.
Casey Romany: After the first chapter of Uncle Drew, we knew that we needed to expand the story beyond Kyrie’s disguise as an old man. So we are generally less concerned with tricking people into thinking that they are seeing an old man playing basketball and more focused on surprising them with an incredible show.
bc: Was there anything that didn’t make it into Uncle Drew 4?
Romany: JB Smoove was hilarious on set. Per usual! He went off on some pretty hilarious rants poking fun at the other characters but unfortunately we needed to trim for time.
We were all tuning into the Finals and excited that soon after we would be filming Uncle Drew. Then, Kyrie got injured. Given that Uncle Drew had been on the bench for two years already, we knew we had to move forward with filming.
We had to quickly adapt the script to Kyrie’s current situation and rehab schedule. You’ll notice some subtle hints in the chapter to what Kyrie is working through.
BC: How does Uncle Drew fit with the Pepsi brand message?
Romany: 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.
As Uncle Drew has grown, we have tried to evolve the series with this overarching goal in mind and deliver new experiences for fans through this platform.
In addition, across the board, Pepsi embraces the spirit of youth and Uncle Drew certainly represents that with his willingness to take on any youngblood that stands in his way.
BC: Can long-form, episodic content like Uncle Drew be repackaged into micromoments, the quick interactions that occur on mobile, social and digital that are so popular with millennials—and if so, how?
Casey Romany: We definitely think of different ways to package the great content we capture, whether it’s through witty one-liners, entertaining video clips, or key moments in the episode.
The great thing which works well in creating these moments is that Uncle Drew has it all: comedy, surprise, entertainment, hoops action, amazing personalities and so much more.
BC: Is it too early to talk about Uncle Drew 5?
Romany: All of our efforts have been focused on making Chapter 4 so we really can’t comment on number 5. We hope fans enjoy this next chapter of Uncle Drew and look forward to seeing the response after its release!