Four weeks ago, when my 17-year-old daughter asked me if she could borrow one of my suits to to go see “Minions: The Rise of Gru” with a group of friends, I readily agreed. I did however ask why she needed a men’s suit and tie to attend a Saturday night screening of an animated film geared toward children. At the time she told me her entire group of seven friends decided it would be fun to dress up and go to the movies. Exhibitors have been trying to get teenagers and older adults back into theatres after the COVID pandemic, so if one of my business suits had to risk being stained with popcorn grease and nacho cheese, it would be my small way of contributing to the industry’s recovery.
Last Saturday, when my daughter came home she told me how much everyone in the sold out audience loved the latest Minions movie and how afterwards her entire group of friends went to IHOP to dine on the Minions Menu and slurp up Ba-Ba-Banana Milkshakes. She reported that most of the crowd in attendance was decked out in prom dresses, tuxedos and dress suits. Again, I asked why and she wasn’t sure though figured it had something to do with one of the previous movies. With a comment that might cause alarm in most responsible parents, she simply stated, “It’s just something everyone is doing.”
By Sunday morning she had figured out that the whole dress up thing for Minions was part of a viral TikTok trend that spread around the world. This was the good kind of viral trend, not like the kind that caused a global pandemic. Given how much time my daughter spends on TikTok, I’m surprised she didn’t know about the trend earlier. Perhaps she simply didn’t want to admit it when asking to borrow one of my suits since she knows my distaste for that particular social media platform.
By Sunday evening she was showing me how the so-called #GentleMinions trend had crossed over to Instagram. She wanted to know why movie theatres were now “banning” anyone showing up to see “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in formalwear. “Aren’t, like, all the movie theatres trying to get audiences back into theatres,” she asked. “You’d think they’d appreciate all the free advertising.”
To be sure, most cinema operators were grateful for the social media trend which sent thousands of teenagers to movie theatres over the past week in countries all over the world, helping the “Minions: The Rise of Gru” open to USD $202 million worldwide. However, there are always a few bad bananas in the bunch and that seemed to be true of the GentleMinions at select cinema locations.
While a majority of moviegoers simply showed up in suits and fine dresses to take photos inside cinemas which got posted and shared via social media, a small minority of troublemakers disrupted screenings by being rowdy, generally misbehaving and actually causing damage to auditoriums. There were stories of some teenagers showing up with bags full of bananas, the Minions favorite food, and throwing them around the auditorium as they filmed themselves for social media posts. I won’t go into how some of these posts had clips of the film running on the screen inside the auditorium, which opens up a whole issue surrounding copyright infringement.
One week after “Minions: The Rise of Gru” hit theatres, mainstream media has picked up the GentleMinions story and exhibitors are wondering how to come up with social media strategies that can repeat the phenomena. Those exhibitors that undertake the effort will find it very difficult to capture such lightning in a bottle, especially with TikTok wherein an opaque algorithm controls what videos get shown most often. The GentleMinions trend was driven by an entire generation who have grown up with the “Despicable Me” franchise and are now teenagers able to buy their own movie tickets. That element is rarely available to propel marketing campaigns.
It’s much easier for a cinema operator to market through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with more predictable repetitive results. For those exhibitors who may be new to social media marketing, or are experimenting with techniques, if there is one thing to take away from the GentleMinions trend, it’s that every cinema should have some way of letting patrons share their moviegoing experience. Whether it’s taking photos in front of a step-and-repeat, a promotional standee or with their feet up in the latest plush recliners, your customers can be your greatest marketers, reaching potential customers who aren’t on your mailing lists or Facebook page. Put up signage that prompts patrons to post on social media using your suggested hashtags. And be sure to retweet, like and respond to such posts when they show up in your social feeds.
Just always be mindful, there are plenty of virtual banana peels to slip on when marketing via social media, and just like real banana peels they aren’t always seen at first and show up when you least expect them.
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