Emoji in Movie Marketing: One in a “Minion!”

minion blogStarwars

Instant messaging (IM) platforms are, undeniably, the most essential and frequently used communication platforms among the contemporary society. Despite mistaken for mobile forms of entertainment by many, IM apps today have become much more than being just “alternative” ways of communication whose utilization is limited to a niche group of teens or young adults. In fact, IM apps have become popular among not only the fun-seeking Generation Z (born in the year 2000 and above), but also among Millennials and even Generation X members who strive to keep in touch with their Millennial children.

Yet, consumers are not the only parties relying on eye-pleasing communication. Being visual-dependent by its very nature, the movie industry is increasingly leveraging mobile platforms, especially mobile IM apps, to reach Millennials. Especially animation studios such as DreamWorks SKG, Pixar, Universal Pictures, and Disney are increasingly getting their characters designed in emoji formats. The companies seem to have three main goals in following such a strategy as explicated below.

First of all, animation studios seek to create awareness for movie sequels and to increase initial awareness to their side characters in these sequels: When the audience has some degree of former acquaintance with the characters through the former movie in the sequel, movie companies have ease in bringing emphasis to side characters and even form a high enough level of likability for their side characters to make new movies based solely on the peripheral characters in question. Universal Pictures’s strategy regarding Despicable Me 2 perfectly exemplifies this situation: The company launched Minion 2 themed free stickers on Facebook Messenger after Despicable Me 1 to generate initial awareness for the upcoming sequel.[1] Moreover, probably also through the contributions of such strategies, Minions (initially side characters in the movie) became more “in sight” and likeable than the actual character of the movie- Gru the man. Thereby, Universal has become able to release a Minions movie (to be released on July 10, 2015) based on Minions (without Gru) only.

Secondly, through such a strategy, animation studios aim to reach their consumers where they actually are by establishing relevance. As today’s Generation Z and Millennials use IM rather than SMS, movie companies seem to have come to realize that place to find their target customers are IM apps. For instance, noticing that most of its fans use Twitter app, the Star Wars brand (now owned by Disney) has developed 3CPO and Stormtroopers (one of the symbolic characters in the movie) emoticons useable on Twitter.[2] Today, if users post to the hashtags #3CPO or #Stormtrooper on Twitter, animated Star Wars emoticons appear on their newsfeeds.[3]  The reason why the brand did not target Facebook, contrary to Minions, is probably that Star Wars fan base must have been identified to be more of a Twitter user than a Facebook poster. The point makes sense because Star Wars fan base is, to my humble opinion at least, more of a serious, old-fashioned, and news-reader/blog-poster type than a commenter and laugher on Facebook. On the other hand, Minions are just too informal and fun to be on a microblog/instant news generator such as Twitter. Thereby, the brands’ media choices seem to be correctly aligned with their audiences.

Thirdly, and finally, regardless of the social/IM platform they put their animated characters, animation studios ultimately aim to engage their targets through developing branded emoji. When consumers use a giggling Minion figure instead of themselves, not only do they form emotional experiences with the movie Minions and its brand, but they also reflect themselves through the brand. Thus, the value proposition of a simple emoji is not that “simple:” It offers both emotional and spiritual (i.e., self-reflecting) benefits, both of which are the hardest to offer in the service industry. The emoji thus becomes a brand asset that is no different from branded toys or other forms of merchandise. Moreover, the emoji strategy that is wrongly labelled as “simple” by many, does undeniably increase targets’ exposure to the brand/product. Whenever the emoji segment on the mobile device opens, the branded emoji pops up, reminding itself. As this point is the ultimate goal of many online digital strategies, a “simple” emoji seems to do the job that many digital strategists fail to accomplish.

All in all, the use of branded emoji by an increasing number of animation studios and movie brands illustrate that the “simple” emoji strategies are proving successful and now becoming a trend in movie marketing. Apparently, strategists need to keep in mind that simplicity does not mean ineffectiveness. It has never been the structure but the details and touch points that make the difference. It is high-time strategists stopped overcomplicating the way to reach their audience and started to enjoy the beauty of relevant simplicity.

[1] The information regarding minion stickers is with reference to a brief reading of the following source: http://socialmediaph.net/2013/07/03/how-to-add-chat-stickers-on-facebook/.

[2] Please notice that the information provided has been derived from the following resource:  https://blog.twitter.com/2015/introducing-starwarsemojis.

[3] The information in question is with reference to http://entertainthis.usatoday.com/2015/04/16/star-wars-emoticons/.

2 thoughts on “Emoji in Movie Marketing: One in a “Minion!”

  1. What a lovely post! I always enjoy reading about movies and animation 🙂
    I think it’s important that studios are listening to their target market and creating movies based on marketing insights, that would ‘speak’ better to the audience. It’s great for both consumers and the box office.. It’s also enchanting to see how the Minions have created their own “cult” by now. It’s a classic case of the side-kick ending up being the star of the show.


  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post this week. It is very animated and lively. The title of the blog is very catchy as well. It is very important for the entertainment industry to analyze what the target audience wants. When it comes to movies and animations, the brands need to look out for how to best capture the interests of the audience. Frozen was one animation which got a lot of attention from the audience due to Olaf and the song ‘Let it go’. In case of Minions, one can say that the supporting actor/actress became more famous than the lead actors. Awesome read!


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