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When Universal opted to stick to a theatrical release for “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” the new chapter of Chris Meledandri’s blockbuster animated saga, it went a couple extra miles to orchestrate one of its biggest and most interactive marketing campaign for an animated film to date.

The multi-pronged operation, spearheaded by Universal’s head of international marketing Julien Noble with his home office team and all the territories marketing groups, spanned live events and activations across the studio’s top 12 markets. Giant squishies of Minions were placed in spontaneous locations and hand painted by local artists around the world.

Judging by the early box office receipts, the studio’s strategy has been paying off. Released July 1 in the U.S., “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” which is directed by Kyle Balda, broke domestic B.O. records for the biggest opening ever over Fourth of July weekend. The film has already grossed more than $248 million worldwide. One of Universal’s crown jewels, the “Despicable Me” franchise — which “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is part of — has already surpassed the $4 billion mark at the worldwide box office.

The far-reaching campaign has not only attracted older audiences, but turned “Minions” into an iconic pop culture brand. In order to expand the movie’s core Gen Z audience, Universal teamed up with prestigious partners such as the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) soccer team in France and the Australian music band The Wiggles.

“Releasing films in theaters is trickier than ever because of the pandemic and the fact that audiences are bombarded with content, so we really pushed the envelope creatively, even if we stayed true to the brand’s DNA,” said Noble, who recently joined Universal from Warner Bros.

While marketing tools have changed, budgets are roughly the same as before, Noble said.

“Prior to COVID-19, we’d start the international marketing six to eight weeks before the film’s opening, and now we’re kicking off later, like two to three weeks before the film opens, and lift it up to sustain people’s interest all the way to the release,” continued Noble.

In France, where the film had its world premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Minions appeared on a 26-meter-high library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France), and a Parisian subway station was customized with Minions as part of the Fête de la Musique, the annual music celebration that marks the first day of summer on June 21.

Through its deal with PSG soccer team, Universal released three comedy videos featuring key players such as Neymar Jr interacting with Minions. “These unique videos will launch on all PSG networks, reaching more than five million followers,” said Noble.

The exec said all the marketing content was created in partnership with Illumination.

In the U.K., Universal created customized events centered around the Jubilee, with Minions celebrating Queen Elizabeth II.

The U.K. team also opened up a Despicable Discs store in London’s Soho on June 18, weeks before the movie’s opening. The pop-up shop sells vintage disco records to pay tribute to “The Rise of Gru’s” psychedelic 1970s backdrop. The shop also boasts “hidden rooms, DJ sets and many Instagram opportunities,” said Noble.

In Italy, the film opened locally at the Taormina Film Festival with a special introduction by Max Giusti, the Italian voice of Gru, and 3D holograms of Minions taking over the Pierball stage. In Germany, Minions made their way into the popular Rock AM Ring Festival, and in Spain, Universal organized live activations around the Yellow Friday celebration.

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The studio also created a Jurassic Minions video mashup to play before the movie, in addition to TikTok content and Snapchat AR extensions.

The Minions craze was on display on social media over the past week, with the hashtag #Gentleminions garnering over 5 million views on TikTok and young moviegoers dressing in costume to attend screenings.

See more live activations in France, Japan and Mexico below:

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