Historical Analysis: Minions, Bananas, and the Beach Boys

In 2010, Universal Pictures released Despicable Me as a contender against Disney’s animated movie monopoly, and was vastly successful with a worldwide box office hit. In 2012, a teaser trailer from Youtube went viral all over the internet, announcing the planned release of a sequel: Despicable Me 2. Presented almost as a mini music video, starring the popular supporting cast of the Minions, this advertisement has almost 31 million views to date and was a massive success.

Movie advertisements tend to be taken directly from the scenes of the movie itself; Universal’s creative team took a different approach with this advertisement by creating entirely new content. This video was the first of a series of teasers released on Youtube’s video hosting/social media platform, and while the subsequent ads followed the more typical model of revealing snippets of the film’s ultimate plot line, this first teaser trailer took a step away from familiarity and served as a unique strategy for creative advertising. It serves the informational function of advertising by telling the audience about the product: that there will be a sequel, released in 2013, most likely starring the Minions in more weight. This is a function of advertising that is present in both traditional and consumer societies. As it is a recent ad, from our current consumer society, it also serves a transformational function: it changes our attitudes. Animated movies are often considered to be for kids, and for kids only, but the content of this trailer proves otherwise. By incorporating a popular Beach Boys song, “Barbara Ann,” which was released in 1965, the ad is reaching out to a larger target audience: adults. Not simply parents, who would be taking their children anyways, but adults who may not otherwise feel a sense of attraction towards an animated film. The Minions sing re-vamped lyrics, but the song is unmistakable as an homage to the Beach Boys, which draws on nostalgia and aims to bring in an older audience as well. This dematerialization makes the actual material less important, focusing on experience of seeing a movie, and also on the people addressed: fans of the Beach Boys, an older crowd of non-parenting adults.

Moreover, this is clearly a contemporary ad. Savvy consumers are already aware of the Despicable Me franchise, as it was a previous global hit, so the advertisers are reaching out to current consumers in order to build trust. As ads are always competing for attention in our ad-saturated society, this new form of movie trailer features music and cultural references that have already been mentioned. In addition, there is humour displayed by the adorable Minion figures as they play out a funny scene including slapstick humour and a gibberish language. The word “banana” is already familiar to fans of the franchise as a catch phrase of the Minions, and the word “potato” was quickly added to the lingo. This ad is definitely a soft sell, as it doesn’t explicitly announce a release date or advertise prices; instead, it serves as an announcement, and creates an air of mystery as to what the actual story line of the film will be. In a response to their fans, who demanded that the supporting cast of Minions from the first film be more heavily featured in any possible sequel, this ad and it’s following series of ads all revolve around the antics of the Minions – another facet of contemporary advertising. This ad, which at first does not seem like an ad, was the launch of a massive integrated marketing communications campaign put out by Universal Pictures, that featured a blimp, a popular mobile game, and more.

This ad is clearly contemporary and could not have been possible prior to modern technology, but it is still unique; it breaks the mould that feature film advertisements follow, while incorporating dual functions and most features of contemporary advertising. The combination of the adored Minion characters, a culturally popular song from recent history, and a social media platform led to success as proven by the viral sharing and viewing of this ad, which sprouted numerous parodies and covers. The movie itself was also hugely successful, and the franchise continues to grow.

– Natalie VJ


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