minions: the rise of gru – marketing recap

How Universal has sold the latest adventure starring the little yellow meme machines.

Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures
Minions: The Rise of Gru poster from Universal Pictures

In an age where properties are spun off with abandon, it’s understandable if you have a hard time figuring out which part of the franchise this week’s Minions: The Rise of Gru belongs to.

Near as I can tell, the two Minions movies are prequels to Despicable Me, with the sequels sporting the Despicable Me name. But still, it makes the kind of sense that doesn’t.

Anyway, this new movie continues the story of a young Gru (voiced by Steve Carrel) and the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) he already has helping him become the super villain he’s destined to be. This time Gru is about 12 years old, with aspirations to join the Vicious 6, a team of the worst villains. When his plans go awry, he’ll get into all kinds of hilarious trouble.

Voicing some of the villains Gru encounters are Michelle Yeoh, Russell Brand, Danny Trejo, Alan Arkin and others.

announcements and casting

Universal announced the movie was happening in 2017, a couple years after the successful opening of the first Minions in 2015.

The studio confirmed the film’s subtitle and gave exhibitors a first look during its CineEurope presentation in mid-2019. Carell and Coffin’s return was confirmed later that year.

the marketing campaign: 2020

A commercial aired during the Super Bowl in early February 2020 was the first official look the public got at the movie. There isn’t much of the story on display here, just the promise of lots of actions and laughs and the return of everyone’s favorite little yellow characters.

That was followed by the first trailer (36.3m YouTube views). As it opens, a young Gru is interviewing for a spot on a society of super villains only to find himself rejected. To prove himself he steals a valuable stone from those villains and with the help of the Minions he escapes. Unfortunately those same Minions have made some questionable choices and he needs to find the stone before the villains find him.

A poster introducing Otto came out at the same time. It uses a wild, tye-dyed look that would come back throughout the campaign.

In March of that year the movie became one of many delayed, in this case by a year to July, 2021, as theaters were closing down and people sheltering at home during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Scenes from the earlier films were put together with a new voiceover from Carell in a World Health Organization PSA in May, 2020, with some helpful tips and hints on staying safe during that difficult time.

Another TV spot came out in June of that year.

In September a line of apparel and other items from Verdy was revealed. That was followed in November by a line of items from Yeenjoy Bob and then a Minions-themed skateboard from The Berricks.

NBCUniversal worked to keep the Minions top-of-mind despite the delays with a holiday special in late November featuring the characters as well as others from various Illumination films.

the marketing campaign: 2021

After having some fun tweeting at various companies during the 2021 Super Bowl, another delay of another full year to the release date was announced in March of that year.

The Minions showed up with Simone Biles in an ad for the Summer Olympics in June, 2021.

A month later a movie-themed DLC for Minecraft was released that let players build cityscapes they could then navigate as young Gru, complete with Minions to follow him around and interact with.

With that new release date, a short commercial was released in December 2021 not showing much more than a few Minion hijinks but promising audiences the movie was still on its way.

Insta360 revealed a Minions-shaped camera in December as well.

the marketing campaign: 2022

That was followed by another TV spot presenting the movie more clearly as the backstory of how Gru became the super villain he would one day be.

It was then Olympics time again, with the Minions and skier Mikaela Shffrin appearing in a commercial for NBC’s coverage of the Winter games.

In March Illumination announced the movie would be the opening feature at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival.

Gru’s origin story is the central message of the next trailer (24.2m YouTube views), released at the end of March. In addition to the trouble he gets into on his way to becoming fully despicable we see more of the story, including how his antics bring him and his Minions into conflict with some other villains who don’t appreciate the competition from a youngster.

The tye-dye backdrop returns on the poster released at the same time, this one showing three of the Minions in tracksuits, one of them holding a boombox above his head.

Regal shared a pre-show video of the Minions on a roller coaster with all the usual “no texting” and “buy more candy” messages in it, along with a promotion for Regal’s loyalty program and app.

Details of the movie’s soundtrack were released in May, including the fact that the album would include Diana Ross, which set the internet ablaze with excitement. The first single – ”Turn Up the Sunshine” from Diana Ross and Tame Impala – was made available quickly after that.

More songs from the album continued coming out over the next few weeks.

Another new trailer (9.2m YouTube views) came out in early June that largely pulls footage from the previous trailers but is still cute for all the expected reasons.

A TV spot that aired during the NBA Finals doesn’t feature anything from the movie but instead has the Minions in a “SportsCenter” type environment arguing which basketball player is indeed the GOAT. Another commercial from mid-June had the Minions visiting Jurassic World, a tie-in with that movie hitting theaters.

Promotional partner commercials also started running around this time, including spots from Liberty Mutual, CarMax and others.

Another video game tie-in was announced with the Minions joining the world of Adopt Me.

To take advantage of A) Universal and B) Carrel being behind both properties, a promo video inserting the Minions into the opening of “The Office” was created.

More commercials and clips continued to be released, each showcasing a different part of the story but always featuring plenty of the mayhem the Minions are always involved in.

Andrews talked about being part of the movie when she appeared on “The Tonight Show,” with Carell stopping by the same show shortly after that.

A “yellow carpet” event was held last weekend at the TCL Chinese Theater with Carrel and others adding their hand/footprints to the cement there. That was followed a few days later by the official premiere, with the cast and filmmakers in attendance.

This past week’s episode of “American Ninja Warrior” featured a Minions-themed challenge and offered viewers an exclusive look at the movie.

overall

Projections have the movie, which currently has an unenthusiastic 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, opening in the neighborhood of $70 million this weekend.

It’s somewhat telling that the most interesting (at least from my perspective) parts of the marketing are those that have little to nothing to do with the movie. The way the Twitter account was jumping in to reply to sporting and other cultural events in the space between trailers and other materials was more inventive and engaging than those trailers or commercials.

Maybe that’s because the Minions are no longer characters but have become pop culture artifacts that can be inserted into any moment. The evolution has progressed to the point where they exist more as ideas than objects. So this movie will come and go from theaters – and then come to Peacock in about four weeks – but those moments will persist outside of their context.

Oh, and the plot is essentially the same as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog if there were hundreds of copies of Moist running around. There, I said it.