Max Pulls Out Promotional Stops In Rebranding Promo Push As Warner Bros Discovery Looks To Make A “Second First Impression”

The last time the parent company of Warner Bros and HBO promoted the launch of a streaming service, it faced the once-a-century challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.

HBO Max debuted in May 2020 — the last of five new multi-billion-dollar streaming entrants hitting the market in a seven-month span — but grand plans for a boost across TV, buses and billboards were dashed by the shelter-in-place reality of the time. Today, nearly three years on, HBO Max accounts for a majority of Warner Bros Discovery’s 96.1 million subscribers and has earned a place in streaming’s top echelon. After a press event last week highlighted strategic and programming initiatives, the marketing push toward Max’s May 23 debut is gaining intensity.

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“It’s very rare that you get a chance to have a second first impression,” said Pato Spagnoletto, global CMO for WBD Streaming in a press release. Elaborating in an interview with Deadline, the exec said the campaign has two primary stages. “Number one is to tease – ‘What is this thing? I haven’t heard of this before.’ So it’s just to try to get people’s attention,” he said. “When we get closer to launch, intent is something that a lot of brands forget to do, especially in our space. That is, to build a bit more of an emotional connection to the brand. Not the content — the content is amazing in and of itself and pulls its weight day in and day out. But if we’re going to win as a brand, we’re going to make people fall in love with the brand as much as they are the content.” Adding to that mission is the fact that Max’s debut isn’t the same as launching from scratch. “This isn’t really a launch campaign, it’s something we can come back to over and over, including our tagline, ‘the one to watch.’”

Asked about the campaign’s cost, he declined to offer a specific number but affirmed that it is the biggest in company history. In addition to paid media and organic media, WBD networks will all join a synergistic push in the coming weeks, along with national TV buys, digital and social media and out-of-home (like the requisite billboards on Sunset Boulevard). “We’ll be all over,” Spagnoletto said. “It’s a full 360.”

Spagnoletto said the decision to shift the color scheme from purple to blue — even though a number of other apps already use blue — was “part of the signaling of the change of the service.” The color also tied in with existing brands like Warner Bros, he noted. Prime Video, Paramount+ and Disney+ are “all different gradients of blue” compared with Max, the exec added. “We looked at it in juxtaposition with everything that’s out there, and while technically they’re all blue, they feel very distinct” in a connected-device, smart-TV or mobile environment where standing out visually is key.

While some Discovery+ programming is also available on Max, consumers will still be able to subscribe to Discovery+ as a stand-alone after WBD backtracked on plans for a total merger of the services upon discovering price resistance among some diehard Discovery fans. But the cheapest tier of Discovery+, is half the price of Max’s lowest-cost tier, so while Discovery+ is profitable and steady, converting subscribers to Max remains a priority. As to how the overall marketing push will attempt to push consumers toward the higher-end choice, Spagnoletto said it’s “more of a carrot strategy than a stick strategy.”

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