The #Gentleminions trend was annoying, pointless and probably very short-lived. But it was also a massive missed opportunity for cinemas, who chose instead to be despicable.

I’ll be honest, my first reaction to the TikTok trend of teens turning up to cinemas dressed in suits for screenings of Minions: The Rise of Gru was, well, befitting of a man my age. I didn’t think it was funny. I didn’t think it was edgy. I definitely didn’t think it was necessary. In fact, I didn’t really know what it was, apart from proof that young people today clearly have nothing better to do… I mean, when I was their age I was… well, I was sat on park bench smoking and drinking cheap cider like a hobo. So yeah, I suppose good luck to ’em.

But as irrelevant as my opinion on the #Gentleminions trend might be from the perspective of those taking part in it, I also felt it was a massive missed brand opportunity for the cinema chains themselves. Granted, there were reports of ‘bad behaviour’ by these teenage cinemagoers, but it seemed odd that so many chains came out with hard bans on people coming to the cinema in formal dress. There’s something very grubby and mean spirited about telling people what they can and can’t wear, so why not take a different approach that shines a better light on your brand?

If you find yourself at the heart of a cultural trend, as cinema chains did over the weekend, surely the sensible move is to see how you can turn it to your advantage? I understand it was probably a pain the arse for staff, but if these things are going to happen anyway, why not make the most of the swarms of customers coming your way with their smartphones pointed right at you? Here are five things cinema chains could have done to create a better piece of reactive marketing out of a brief and mildly annoying online trend:

#1 Announce special ‘#Gentleminions’ screenings

The reason this trend was considered a problem was because of the associated behaviour, with cinema managers reporting disruptive screenings and refund demands from patrons ‘not in on the joke’. And I get it, when I inevitably take my kids to see this film, I don’t want it ruined by giddy teens hopped up on Haribo and TikTok. However, by offering special #Gentleminions screenings, admitting patrons only if they are wearing a suit, cinemas could have actively embraced the trend, contained ‘the problem’ and even reaped the rewards of more positive brand coverage online.

#2 Give them something to point a camera at

Online trends like this come and go quickly, in fact this one is probably already dead as I write this. That’s why it was so important for cinemas to react quickly and positively, rather than slowly start putting out signs telling people to go home. My solution? Stick the Minions 2 standees out front, rent a couple of Minions costumes for staff to wander around the foyer in, get the corporate logo up on every screen and encourage those kids to get their phones out and start sharing. Every post, reel and story now has your name on it. You’re welcome.

#3 Ply into the trend and make people feel fancy

The whole trend was (I think) about the ‘irony’ of treating Minions 2 as a fancy event. So give them something to make them feel fancy. Get some (branded) clear plastic cups, fill them with banana (“ba-na-na”) milkshake, stick a googly eye on the front, put a blue cocktail umbrella in the top and bang, you’ve got yourself a #Gentleminionshake. Give one to every patron queuing for the #Gentleminions screening, and while they’re feeling fancy snapping photos and videos, tell them to tag your cinema in their posts for the chance to win… I dunno… a years supply of bananas?

#4 Be an ally and create advocacy 

If your competitors are all trying to ban people from wearing what they want to a screening, you’ve got the chance to be the hero. Why not call those competitors out on social media, suggest they are being grumpy, boring and mean, and declare yours is the chain that accepts and welcomes all #Gentleminions everywhere. In fact, do it as an announcement that allows you to tel them about the special screenings. As mentioned earlier, this is a trend that will disappear fast, but the advocacy it could create might last for long time.

#5 Give them stuff, sell them stuff

You know what people love? Free stuff. Get on to Universal Pictures and see if you can’t crank out some free mini posters, flags, stickers and badges quickly. And while you’re at it, sell them a load of overpriced cuddly toys, t-shirts and Minions-branded concessions. And when they are head to toe in branded merchandise, launch a best dressed #Gentleminions competition on social media to win an annual membership that pays for itself every time they come back with three of their friends.

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