Out of Scope Issue 72: Minions Take Over the Internet
A big week for retailers, good and bad.
This week we look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of brand trends, names, farewells, mascots, color palettes, memes, and return policies. Let’s get into it!
💡ON OUR MINDS:
Meta and TikTok are under fire (again)
Instagram and TikTok are the latest social media platforms to be taken to court for allegedly endangering their users. Last month, Alexis Spence, 20, sued Instagram’s parent company, Meta, alleging that its habit-forming elements caused psychological issues including depression and self-harm. Meanwhile, the parents of two girls who died attempting the viral TikTok “blackout challenge” are suing the app where the dangerous trend proliferated.
Both suits arrive at inopportune times for the tech giants. For TikTok, it’s the second suit related to the choking challenge, while Meta’s image remains tainted by last year’s damaging revelations about youth safety on its platforms and its mysterious algorithms.
Corporations have skirted similar trouble by invoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which places responsibility for offensive content on the creator rather than the service provider. But these recent cases highlight the structure of the apps themselves.
Each approaches the platform from a product design and defect perspective, with Spence’s suit, in particular, calling out specific features (“Feed + Profile and Explore,” “Friend Recommendations,” and “Likes”) that she argues are built to cultivate addiction regardless of user-generated content.
We’ll be keeping an eye out for whether these design-based arguments will spur meaningful product changes, or whether profit still trumps safety.
Brands, speak like a sixth-grader
Research shows that more than half of Americans are reading at a sixth-grade level or below. So if you’re in charge of a brand and looking to appeal to a general audience, consider the language that they’re using.
This article, while slightly cheeky, demonstrates what a Grade 3 reading level looks like. It’s full of short, direct sentences. No jokes or metaphors.
While we’re not necessarily advocating for brands to oversimplify their language to the point of being meaningless, it’s always good to reflect on whether the words you use really resonate.
As this reporter points out, it’s not that sixth graders can’t read complex texts. It’s that it takes energy. In a world where attention spans are rapidly decreasing — we’re at an average of 8.25 seconds now — you only have so much time to engage a reader.
Boris Johnson’s farewell comms
Following the resignation of two senior cabinet members of the Conservative Party, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson steps down from his role as leader of his party. Prime Minister Johnson will remain in office until his predecessor is elected, kicking off an internal race between members of his party vying to replace him.
A slew of scandals in recent months put public pressure on Prime Minister Johnson’s resignation. During the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials had several parties non-compliant with the country’s lockdown policies. Most recently, Prime Minister Johnson apologized for appointing a senior parliamentary official who had an alleged history of making unsolicited sexual advances.
Not always known for his communication prowess, the former London mayor gave his resignation speech this week in Downing Street. Highlighting his political successes in his signature bull-in-a-china-shop approach, he summarized his feelings with a quippy and very fitting idiom. Johnson’s farewell to his country: “And I want you to know how sad I am… but them’s the breaks.”
🏆 BRAND WIN OF THE WEEK: Minions: The Rise of Gru
For those not familiar with the lore of the Minions Cinematic Universe, Minions is a prequel film to the original Despicable Me film released in 2010, and features a gaggle of nonsense-speaking, barely-anthropomorphic villainous underlings known as “minions.”
Following its release over the holiday weekend, the movie broke box-office records and spawned a TikTok trend. While the film is definitely targeted at families and children, teenage boys on TikTok have assembled for the #GentleMinions trend (a portmanteau of “gentlemen” and the nominal “Minions”), ironically swarming en masse into theaters worldwide in formal wear to see the movie. The memes surrounding this movie have spread onto Twitter and other social media, making the Minions a widely popular viral phenomenon.
The commitment to the joke is so intense that it is resulting in some frustrations for businesses. Some theaters have found the jokes so disruptive that they are canceling screenings of the movie, or restricting customers from coming in costume.
Perhaps most of this unexpected, unparalleled success has to do with the actual cultural product being sold here. The movie was able to tap into a fanbase that grew up with the Despicable Me franchise– the first film was released almost exactly 12 years ago. The original audience for these characters has grown up, becoming the savvy, content-creating TikTok teens. This is the perfect kind of confusing cultural moment that these young audiences could use as a springboard for all kinds of irony, and they did.
So, what worked for Minions: The Rise of Gru? A savvy marketing team clearly understood their product and played into the weirdness surrounding it. Rather than resist jokes, pranks, and tweets about the film, the irony was embraced with open arms. It goes to show that meme culture is an unruly thing, but if it begins to lean in your favor, the smartest move may be to not fight it.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Pew Research released a new study that reports 94% of journalists use Twitter as the top social media site for work-related tasks, whereas the public most often turns to Facebook for news. There are interesting nuances at play, including age, race and ethnicity, politics, and what type of news organization the journalist works for. Worth a read, especially if you plan to create a channel strategy anytime soon.
A new study shows that owning a brand color can increase brand recognition by 80%. Think of Tiffany’s blue boxes or the T-Mobile magenta. It turns out these companies own the trademarks of these specific colors. Why go through the legal process to own a color? Well, studies show that up to 90% of consumers' initial product judgment is based on color, and 52% of consumers perceive color as an indication of quality. So, if you’re in the market for a brand color, act fast. There are only 1,867 solid Pantone colors that exist to claim.
Kim Kardashian’s pattern of weird naming choices is landing her more legal backlash. She’s now being sued over her new skincare line, SKKN, for copyright infringement in the trademarked name of a Black-owned small business called Beauty Concepts that has provided salon services under the title “SKKN+” since 2018. This suit should come as no surprise to the billionaire - Beauty Concepts founder Cydnie Lunsford sent a cease and desist letter when Kim first filed trademark applications. Kardashian is frequently at the center of controversy, especially when it comes to accusations of appropriating Black and POC culture. Unfortunately, she hasn’t learned her lesson.
Balenciaga Designer and Creative Director Demna surprised fashion show attendees when he brought out celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Dua Lipa, Nicole Kidman, and more for his second Balenciaga couture collection show. Demna is known for utilizing celebrity influence beyond the runway. The Vogue piece worded it best: “the Demna effect is more meta; a comment on the cult of celebrity itself.” For example, Demna essentially styled the Kimye divorce. His creative influence pouring into celebrity culture is turning the brand into more than a fashion house, but an arbitrator for celebrity status and accompanying costumes for celebrity narratives.
A Quartz investigation revealed that the “environmental scorecards” H&M assigned to its inventory ranged from misleading to flat-out false. It’s not the first fast-fashion faux pas for the retail giant, which has previously apologized for the use of racist tropes in its clothing and advertising. H&M has since shelved the scorecard program, but it remains to be seen how or whether they’ll revitalize their efforts at eco-friendly positioning in the long term.
Big-name companies like Walmart, Target, and Gap are exploring options to allow customers to keep unwanted items instead of returning them. While this approach isn’t new (Amazon has had a similar but somewhat unspoken policy on this for years) and is more likely to reduce supply chain costs, some companies are finding success with framing the practice more philanthropically. Pet supply brands like Chewy are encouraging customers to donate the items instead.
What happens when a brand’s TikTok personality leaves the job? A recent interview with Izzy Weinberg, better known for playing SIMULATE’S NUGGS’ TikTok mascot named Raye, discusses just that. When companies consistently put personalities forth (think Flo from Progressive or Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World), audiences not only synonymize them with the brand but become invested in their narratives. The plant-based nugget company is just the latest brand to deal with the complications of a brand personality transition. RIP to Raye’s days being locked in SIMULATE’s basement!
The popular footwear company Birkenstock has teamed up with The New York Times’ T Brand Studios to launch their first global campaign. Birkenstock sandals have developed a massive following partially due to their form-fitting footbeds that shape to the wearer’s sole. The provocative campaign states that feet are “ugly for a reason”, connecting the perceived ugliness of feet with their utility. Birkenstock CEO Oliver Reichert explained that most people are born with healthy feet, but the shoes they wear can create many different foot problems. This campaign is positioned to educate consumers on making better decisions when buying shoes, even if they aren’t the beloved Birkenstock.
Will capitalism win out over the e-cig ban? Juuls are back on shelves just two weeks after they were banned. In June, the FDA ordered that Juuls be removed from U.S. shelves, but this week they’ve paused the ban. According to their communications on Twitter, there are “scientific issues unique to the Juul application that warrant additional review.” Juul accounts for about half of the $4 billion market.
In a handwritten letter to President Biden, WNBA star Brittney Griner made a direct plea for help in ending her months-long wrongful detention in Russia. The lack of a coordinated, public response from Washington amid the high-profile case may have led the Houston native to escalate, and her new approach is yielding results: Biden and Harris spoke with Griner’s wife just days later.
Meet the new and not quite improved Uber Pool. Rebranded as UberX Share, the carpooling feature is back for users in nine U.S. cities, including New York and L.A., for the first time since March 2020. The limited rollout suggests lingering concerns about consumers’ comfort levels as COVID-19 continues, but may also point to an affordability issue. Rising gas prices and market volatility have sent individual fares skyward, and it appears that even buddying up can’t stop the sticker shock.
In case you missed these stories this week.
On-the-ground activations are back in full force. Here is a fun round-up of brands at Wimbledon.
The NYC Department of Sanitation tried to make light of the dreaded return of alternate side parking with this TikTok announcement.
Nathan Fielder’s comms strategy: make the people deeply uncomfortable, and they’ll probably reveal something incredibly personal.
As sports betting becomes more and more mainstream, Axios examines how sports teams, start-ups, and government agencies are all clamoring to get involved.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print: This week’s newsletter is brought to you by Minnesota’s accidental loophole.