Movie Marketing Madness: Despicable Me 3

despicable_me_three_ver3Universal and Illumination are back for another go around with Despicable Me 3, the second sequel in the surprisingly successful franchise that also spun-off Minions a couple years ago. As we saw by the end of the last movie Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is now working for the good guys, having given up his life of villainy to be a better example to Margo, Edith and Agnes, the three girls he adopted in the first movie. In that fight he’s joined by his girlfriend Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig).

This time out though there are problems. After letting an 80s-themed villain slip past him he’s fired by the secret organization he’s been working for. That sets the stage for him to be reunited with Dru (also Carell), the long-lost twin brother he didn’t know he had. Dru wants Gru to embrace what turns out to be the family business of being a bad guy, but Gru isn’t sure which way he wants to go.

The Posters

Lots of white-space on the teaser poster, with Gru just popping his head up through a manhole cover and the promise of a summer release date here. It’s just about telling fans it’s coming. The next poster explains that we’re going to meet Gru’s identical twin brother and shows Gru does not appear to be thrilled by this.

A series of character posters showed the Minions clad in prison overalls and sporting various (adorable) tattoos that were, it seems, designed to show how tough and still evil they are.

The Trailers

The first trailer is primarily concerned with establishing the new villain for this movie, in this case a shoulder-pad-sporting bad guy who’s still obsessed with the 1980s. Balthazar Bratt is taking over a cargo ship, but Lucy and Gru are on the case and trying to stop him. That doesn’t go according to lan, of course, and Bratt fights with a keytar and more. Oddly, it’s not until the very end when we see the Minions pop up.

Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s certainly another Despicable Me movie. Gru, it seems, is now a full-on good guy, though he’s still a bit anti-social. Other than that it’s funny enough introducing a new villain with a schtick. And maybe the studio heard the comments about the Minions being a tad overdone in their solo movie by minimizing their role in this trailer.

The next trailer shows Gru being fired after failing to stop Bratt’s heist. That means he’s out of work and doesn’t take well to unemployment. Someone comes to find him on behalf of his twin brother, who Gru runs off to meet, only to find he’s a super-rich guy with lots of great hair. Dru wants Gru to give into his criminal heritage and help him pull off one last crime. The partnership is not without its speed bumps though, but the minions are certainly on board with more villainy.

Yeah, OK. It’s funny in its own way and explains more of the plot. The Minions are still being somewhat downplayed here, lending credence to the idea that Universal is holding them back a bit.

The final trailer starts out by explaining how it is Gru doesn’t know he has a twin brother, who when they reunite tries to lure him back into a world of crime. Nothing new or different here, just some scenes we haven’t seen before and a bit more of the Minions but otherwise it’s more of the same thematically.

Online and Social

You get full-screen video pulled from the trailer when you load up the official website. On the front page there’s a big prompt to buy tickets as well as a rotating carousel of features ranging from “Watch the Trailer” to “Pre-Order the Soundtrack” to “Create Your GIF,” which takes you to another site where you find a clip from one of the trailers and edit it into a GIF to be shared on social media. There are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Finally, there’s a “Partners” link at the bottom that takes you to more information on the partner companies the studio enlisted.

If you go to the drop-down menu at the left the first section is “About,” which has a decent write-up of the story. “Characters,” which is also labeled on the front page as “Meet the Good/Bad Guys,” has a small bio of the main characters, including the Minions. There are about seven stills in the “Gallery.” Finally “Videos” has the latest Pharrell Williams song along with trailers.

The movie as also one of the launch partners for Facebook’s new camera masks, which allow users to add some movie-themed element to their photos in the same way Snapchat filters work.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The paid campaign kicked off with TV spots that showed Gru celebrating his return to villainy while working with his twin brother. That’s a slightly different tack than was taken in the full trailers and outlines a different story for the audience, one that doesn’t show his reluctance to return to his former life.

Outdoor and online ads used the key art of Gru and Dru along with some Minions, of course.

In terms of promotional partners, there were quite a few, particularly of the food kind.

  • 23andMe, which used the movie’s story of finding family you didn’t know you had to sell its genetic testing services. This is a bit odd for a kids movie like this.
  • Bounty, which put movie branding on some rolls of its paper towels.
  • Kellogg’s, which put put out cobranded packaging and offered movie-themed treats in select snack boxes.
  • Chiquita, which put Minions on its banana stickers (which makes sense as those are the characters’ preferred snacks” and offered a sticker book to collect all of them as part of a challenge to win more prizes.
  • Yummy Spoonfuls, which ran a contest to win prizes if you submitted a photo of your “messy eater.”
  • McDonald’s, which put Minion toys in Happy Meals, though that U.S. promotion is nothing compared to what the fast food chain did in select Asian cities.
  • Puffs, but there aren’t any details on what this promotion is.
  • CandyMania, which offered a movie-themed casual game to play.
  • TicTacs, which ran a sweepstakes awarding a trip to Hawaii.
  • Nutella, which put out co-branded packaging and offered some movie-themed recipes that let you use the product to create Minion-shaped food.

Zumba, which created official choreography featuring instructor Toni Costa that was available only in Zumba classes.  

Media and Publicity

Carell talked about how he approached playing dual characters and how he found the accent for Dru along with the challenge of playing both brothers in an interview that included a first look photo from the movie.

A first look at some of the new Minions appearing in this movie also hinted at some story points the trailers haven’t gotten around to, including that the little yellow guys are more than just disappointed Gru isn’t returning to his criminal ways but actively and openly rebelling.

despicable-me-3 pic

The cast and crew did some media touring, of course, talking about how they felt with returning to the franchise as well as offering thoughts while attending the premiere. There was also a bit of a publicity pop around Zumba’s partnership involving a well-known trainer.


So this is an interesting little case study in marketing a film. It’s the third movie in the franchise, the second sequel to the original, which was a big hit and has become very popular. And it comes after the Minions spinoff, which was successful but not exactly a critical darling. But the Minions have also become a corporate calling card for Illumination, appearing as ambassadors of a sort in the trailers for Sing, The Lorax and other movies from the production studio. So not only have we seen them in the Despicable Me movies but their brand (yes, I said it) has become powerful enough to be used as shorthand for the studio’s overall output, a reason in and of themselves for people to see the movie.

As for the campaign itself, this is the most profound example of selling the promise of “more of what you’ve already enjoyed” I’ve seen in quite a while, even after having just dived into the latest Transformers marketing. Not only does it make it clear that Gru is still Gru and the Minions are still the Minions, it seems to be sold on the concept of apologizing in some way for the second movie offering changes to the characters, making it clear that everyone’s real inclinations are still toward villainy. So come see this, the campaign promises, because everyone’s getting back into character to some extent. It’s like if there was a sequel to Leaving Las Vegas where Nicolas Cage got sober and then a third one where Elizabeth Shue introduced him to his brother, a bartender.

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Some Questionable Songs Being Used to Market Kids Movies

This past weekend I took my youngest son to see Captain Underpants. While by no means a great movie it’s actually pretty funny, with a speed to the jokes and the story that keeps the energy up and moving along and doesn’t let you dwell on any criticisms you might be feeling. It’s perfectly geared toward boys under 13, full of the kind of jokes that you’d tell your best friend on the way home from school, which is exactly the conceit. It might seem a bit quaint because no one is sharing Snapchat and the jokes, if anything, seem a bit dated in the years since “South Park” made all form of crude humor acceptable playground and dinner table fodder. It’s a throwback to more innocent times when good-natured pranks were the worst thing a school principal had to worry about from two trouble-making kids too enamored with their own creativity.

I don’t see a lot of these kinds of movies so I was curious to see what trailers preceded the show. They were more or less exactly what I should have expected if I’d looked at release schedules for the rest of the year. But what jumped out at me was the music that was used in some of those trailers and it got me thinking about the tactical thinking behind those song choices. Here’s a list of what we saw and heard before the adventures of Captain Underpants got underway:

Movie: Ferdinand

Song: “Castle on the Hill” (Ed Sheeran)

It’s funny because just a couple weeks prior to this I’d heard this on the radio and asked my older son what song this was and who it was by. I’ve never been a huge Sheeran fan but this one connected because of not only it’s driving beat and jangly guitars but also the lyrics.

Those lyrics are at least part of why it makes contextual sense for the movie. He’s singing about the wistful, wonderful days of youth. His first cigarette and his first kiss and all that. It’s an updated version of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” in that way.

That matches in some ways with the innocent perspective of the title bull in Ferdinand. He just wants to enjoy sunsets and flowers and not get into the violence of his fellow bulls. It’s not a perfect match and certainly a big part of its selection is just that it’s a contemporary song by a very popular singer, an attempt to make the movie hip by association. But it makes a certain amount of sense largely because the target audience for the song is the same one being sought for the movie.

Movie: Despicable Me 3

Song: “So Bad” (Eminem)

OK I get that the title alone makes it a fit for the movie, which has Gru struggling against his villainous nature after meeting his long-lost twin brother Dru. I’m sure at some point someone in a meeting said “What about ‘So Bad” and it was approved on the spot without further research.

But it’s hard to imagine parents being cool with their under-10 kids dialing up Eminem’s tune. Note that the trailer uses the “So bad” line from chorus liberally but not the line that comes later about how “you ain’t gonna wanna fuck nobody else again.” That seems like a lyric that has no place being anywhere near the marketing of a family-friendly franchise like this.

So why include it at all? Was the promise of “So bad” being a good line too good to pass up? Are Universal and Illumination trying to appear edgy? All this seems to setup is an awkward conversation later on if the kid comes back from the theater and wants to hear the song from the Despicable Me 3 trailer. Hopefully parents are better informed.

It makes me think of how so many trailers for kids movies use songs like “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Sweet Emotions.” The former is about surviving the heroin-riddled streets of Los Angeles, the latter at least in part about getting away responsibility free from the pregnancy that results after having sex after the high school dance. Not exactly messages that are great for The Secret Life of Pets or other all-ages movies. But as long as the editing is sufficient, a song whose mere presence got myself and a few of my friends grounded after our parents discovered it is now just fine to associate with snuggly rabbits and madcap animated adventures.

Life comes at you fast.

Movie: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Song: “Bad Blood” (Taylor Swift)

In the movie the key point of conflict seems to be between Lloyd, one of the heroic ninja warriors, and his father, the evil Lord Garmadon. There are at least three or four jokes in the trailer that hammer that home, showing the dysfunctional relationship that exists between the bad guy who wants to level the city and the hero who’s determined to stop him.

That makes Swift’s song about feuding with someone (I’m not going to get into whom) somewhat appropriate. It’s all about the rift that exists between the protagonist and the person she’s dealing with. They used to be close, but are now at odds. Swift’s appeal across gender and other demographics make it a solid, if somewhat generic and uninspired choice. But its usage in the trailer, which is played somewhat for laughs, is at least moderately appropriate and certainly fine for all ages.

Movie: The Emoji Movie

Song: “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Electric Light Orchestra)

The trailers and other marketing here are selling the movie as the story of the Meh emoji that lives in a young boy’s phone trying to break out of his assigned role and explore a wider range of emotions.

So “Don’t Bring Me Down” is meant to be that Meh emoji telling everyone else to let him be happy and excited and not be stuck in the limited emotional range. The song itself is more about telling a woman to live up to her crazy, wild reputation, but that’s not super important. It’s certainly not as offensive as Eminem’s lyrics, filled with more entendre than anything overt. And it’s part of how classic rock has become a kind of go-to tactic for movie marketers who want something that will have just the right lyric or two for the kids while speaking more to the older audience.

That’s a massive minion


Despicable Me 2The 165-foot-long craft, which is slated to fly over Phoenix on Thursday, displays the image of a “minion” — one of the jabbering, pill-shaped beings featured in Universal Pictures’ “Despicable Me” franchise.

via ‘Despicable Me 2’ blimp enters new frontier of movie marketing –