HBO Max initially planned to hold a week of physical brand activations and brick-and-mortar retail takeovers to celebrate its nationwide launch on May 27. But as its debut occurred during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the WarnerMedia streaming service had to rethink its brand partnerships for a launch campaign designed to engage consumers stuck at home.
To celebrate the launch, HBO Max partnered with numerous brands for its “Week of So Much More” campaign from May 27-June 3. The campaign offers consumers promotions and virtual events themed around the service’s streaming content, from Friends to Sesame Street to Game of Thrones.
Participating brands include Blue Apron, Obé Fitness, Bluestone Lane, Best Friends Animal Society, FreshDirect and Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream.
Jason Mulderig, svp of brand marketing at HBO and HBO Max, said the platform’s original vision for premiere week was to connect with consumers through real-life retail partnerships and pop-ups. Once the pandemic made that impossible, HBO Max worked with original partners to revamp the stunts and brought on new partners that could cater to quarantined fans.
“We sat down with our existing partners and talked about how we could reimagine the partnerships because consumer behaviors changed as well,” Mulderig said. “We had to rethink where we were giving perks and how we were reaching and engaging our customers. In some instances, we had to consider new partners as well.”
For Bluestone Lane, HBO Max is supporting the coffee company’s existing “So Much More Fuel for Heroes” initiative by doubling local coffee deliveries to hospitals in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, D.C., throughout the week. The brand is also celebrating HBO Max franchises with latte art demonstrations across its social channels.
The streaming service is supporting grocery delivery company FreshDirect in its existing partnership with New York Common Pantry, matching ongoing consumer donations through June 2.
Obé Fitness, which provides at-home workouts, is one brand HBO Max partnered with for the campaign after it realized physical events wouldn’t be an option. The fitness company is offering customers daily workouts inspired by shows like Sex in the City, Euphoria and Sesame Street and promoting the branded workouts on social.
“Obé is seeing huge engagement right now. People are at home and like to work out,” Mulderig said. “That was one where we were opportunistic in talking to them to reach a younger and more millennial audience that loves to stream content, whether it’s online exercise classes or our own entertainment.”
With the pandemic increasing nationwide pet adoptions, HBO Max partnered with Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare nonprofit, for its first virtual adoption event. Along with sponsoring the event, which kicked off May 27 and runs through May 31, the brand helped offset adoption costs for anyone who submitted an application to adopt during the event’s first day. According to HBO Max, the event drew more than 900 applications for pets in the first 24 hours.
HBO Max is also leveraging the popularity of ordering food and meal-kit deliveries during the pandemic. Blue Apron is offering branded pairing suggestions on recipe cards in subscribers’ boxes. The meal-kit service is also hosting Instagram Live snack cooking tutorials to pair with streaming content, with the recipes available on Blue Apron’s site. Snacks include Fiery Dragon Wings for Game of Thrones, Ruh Roh Puppy Chow for Scooby-Doo, Atomic Shrimp for The Big Bang Theory and a Bon Temps Breeze for True Blood.
The streaming service also partnered with high-end ice cream chain Van Leeuwen Artisanal Ice Cream to give away 1,000 pints to fans. The brand will also suggest ice cream pairings with HBO Max titles on its social channels.
And with mobile payment service Venmo, HBO Max introduced a branded sticker pack. The streaming service worked with messaging technology company Holler to create stickers themed to trending topics and keywords, depicting icons from films and series including The Wizard of Oz and Doctor Who.
Additionally, HBO Max has aimed to be strategic in pivoting brand partnerships to promote its original content to a digital space. To celebrate the premiere of its romantic anthology comedy series Love Life starring Anna Kendrick, the brand teamed with Bumble to offer 1,000 users a free virtual date package that included a preview of the series and a $20 gift card for food delivery.
Alex Diamond, director of program marketing at HBO, said the brand found the women-first dating and networking app a natural partner to build buzz for the show, which follows Kendrick’s character Darby’s first relationship to her last relationship in New York.
“We were really interested in aligning with a platform that connects users in a variety of ways, whether via love, friendship or careers, since so much of Darby’s journey is about personal growth and discovery,” Diamond said in a statement. “While we had to tailor our initial plans due to Covid-19, we couldn’t be more excited about the ways we’ve been able to pivot the partnership virtually and tap into Bumble’s engaged audience.”
Mulderig said HBO Max will continue to lean into a digital brand marketing strategy for 2020, as it remains uncertain when in-person gatherings will return to some semblance of normal in the U.S.
“I think we’re still learning, just like a lot of other brands, how we can engage people digitally,” he said. “With digital efforts, it’s almost easier to quantify social reach and sentiment. But it doesn’t replace how many consumers you can interact with in the real world.”