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How Disney+ and HBO Max ads are using the same pop-culture blitz to win you over

The streaming wars come to advertising as these duelling platforms aim to overwhelm our senses.

How Disney+ and HBO Max ads are using the same pop-culture blitz to win you over

It begins with Bugs Bunny. Everyone’s favorite wise-cracking, upright-walking rabbit pops up out of the ground to ask, “Hey, what’s all the excitement about?”

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The is the first ad for HBO Max, the new streaming service set to launch next May that HBO held a launch event for late Tuesday. Following Bugs, there’s a quick demo of the interface, then the roller coaster ride across almost every piece of content in the WarnerMedia vaults kicks in. At some point Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus from The Matrix tells us to take the red pill to see how far the rabbit hole goes. Oh, it goes: Selena! Magic Mike! Batman! Friends! Then a blur of content properties across animation, drama, comedy, and more hit the eyeballs at rapid speed.

HBO Max will launch with about 10,000 hours of content, including a boatload of original programming. About halfway through the new ad, it pivots from old favorites to hype new originals, including Anna Kendrick’s Love Life, and Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi series Raised By Wolves. Then it’s back to a greatest hits parade with The Wizard of Oz, Insecure, Scooby Doo, Anthony Bourdain, When Harry Met Sally, and Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon pops up with his signature “Bazinga!” before Veep‘s Selena Meyer signs it off with, “Alright boys, let’s go launch this rocket.”

Tyrion Lannister may have asked early on in this spot, “Are you ready to see something different?” but this HBO Max teaser sure looked familiar.

Back in August, Disney+ rolled out its first ad to whet our appetites ahead of its November 12 launch, and there’s an eerily similar vibe. The spot quickly rolls through a cornucopia of characters—Thor, Kermit, Don Cheadle’s Rhodey, Aladdin—until we hit Timon and Poomba saying, “What’s next?” “The future!”

After that, all the characters we see are looking off to the middle distance, the music crescendo building toward whatever it is they’re looking at. Free Solo‘s Alex Honnold is climbing towards it, The Little Mermaid is swimming up to it, Jane Goodall is smiling at it. Iron Man, Phineas and Ferb, the Big Hero 6 crew, and Wall-E are all flying towards it. Okay, sure. Cinderella says, “It’s like a dream.” All the princesses are dancing, I think Jeff Goldblum‘s in there, then Darth Vader, there are more folks animated and not skipping by, until it’s just a whirring scroll of characters, and we finally end on “You have magic.”

By the end, it’s clear that Disney wants us to be covered in goosebumps and willing to tap any vein possible in which to plug the HDMI cable.

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We like to see what’s familiar, and both these ads turn the pop-culture nostalgia dial to 11, essentially becoming visual flip-books of all your favorite shows and movies (or so they hope), aiming to beat us senseless with their embarrassment of content riches that we simply cannot live without.

Both are edited to splice together all of these greatest hits into one cohesive message, much like Apple did with its first-ever iPhone ad “Hello” back in 2007:

They almost mimic the feeling of flicking through TikTok, except instead of kids juggalo cussing and hoooolding in front of their parents, it’s an endless stream of one-liners and characters passing in front of our eyes. Creative edits aside, both are clearly banking on the idea that the one with the most relevant, must-see library will be the one we sign up for and then never cancel. Show us enough and you might, just might, make yourself churn proof.

We’ve all taken the red pill, staring into the streaming wars rabbit hole—and about to dive in.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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