Entertainment

Hollywood Is Winning Over Gen Z by Turning Movies Into Memes

A majority of Gen Z Americans heard about the #GentleMinions trend on TikTok to promote ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru,’ per a Morning Consult survey

Most Gen Zers said they hear about upcoming movies and TV shows through advertisements and posts on social media, according to Morning Consult data. (Netflix, Lionsgate, A24, Unsplash / Morning Consult artwork by Chloe Phan)

Gen Zers are no longer a mere fascination: They now wield serious purchasing power and cultural capital as they put their imprints on the global economy. Morning Consult surveyed Americans between the ages of 13 and 25 about their media tastes and habits, relationships with brands and interest in sports in order to better understand where, exactly, the youngest adult generation is now taking us.

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As the film industry tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, studios and their marketing partners are trying to find ways to get audiences — particularly younger ones — back into theaters. While the box office may never return to pre-pandemic levels, the industry did see some success this year with titles like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

One strategy moving forward? Turn movies into memes. 

New Morning Consult data found that the majority of Gen Zers hear about upcoming movies and TV shows through advertisements and posts on social media. Large shares of them also heard about specific viral movie trends, including those for “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Smile,” both of which — perhaps uncoincidentally — wound up thriving at the box office.

More Than Half of Gen Z Knows About the #GentleMinions

Respondents were asked how much they have seen, read or heard about the following viral marketing campaigns:

Survey conducted Nov. 2-8, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. A separate survey was conducted Nov. 2-4, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
  • More than half (51%) of Gen Zers have seen, read, heard about the #GentleMinions trend on TikTok, which encouraged moviegoers attending “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in theaters to record themselves dressed in suits and sunglasses. Less than half that many U.S. adults (24%) have heard of the trend. 
  • Meanwhile, 42% of Gen Zers have heard about Paramount Pictures’ campaign for the horror film “Smile,” which involved hiring actors to creepily smile in view of cameras at televised MLB games and other locations. A quarter of the general population said the same.
  • According to Diesel Labs, a firm that measures audience engagement across entertainment, 67% of those who engaged with “Minions” content were Gen Zers. “Occasionally, a title will achieve what we internally refer to as ‘escape velocity,’ which is when a title hits a level of engagement that puts it on a whole new plane of attention and engagement,” Anjali Midha, CEO and co-founder of Diesel Labs, told Morning Consult.
  • A third of Gen Zers said they watched “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in theaters. Forty-five percent of those who heard about the #GentleMinions trend said they saw the film in theaters, while another 28% said they planned to see it once it was out of theaters.
Social Media Dominates Gen Z’s Awareness of Latest Movies

Respondents were asked how they have heard about upcoming movies and TV shows in the past year

Survey conducted Nov. 2-8, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. A separate survey was conducted Nov. 2-4, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Gen Z primarily hears about new movies on social media 

  • Large majorities of Gen Zers reported hearing about new movies and TV shows via ads on social media (77%), ads while watching TV, movies or videos (74%) and people posting about them on social media (72%), followed by conversations with friends and family (67%). More traditional forms of movie marketing, such as the news (28%) and print ads (28%), have far less of an effect on the cohort. 
  • Gen Zers are much more likely to hear about upcoming movies and TV shows via social media than the general population is. Less than half (47%) of all U.S. adults said they heard about movies from other people posting about them on social media platforms last year.
  • Just over one-third of Gen Zers (35%) said they tend to enjoy when social media campaigns are used to advertise a new movie or TV show, and that those can make them more interested in seeing that content. A nearly identical share (36%) said they enjoy TV or movie ads on social media but that those don’t make them more interested in seeing the content.

The future of movie marketing is on social

Major studios like Universal Pictures and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. have already created accounts on TikTok specifically to reach Gen Zers. They and other Hollywood brands typically try to mimic the generation’s sense of humor with posts and comments that a younger consumer might appreciate. Whether they’re able to do so authentically remains to be seen. But their mere presence on these apps appears to be paying dividends.

Twitter Inc. recently played a part in organic movie marketing with the Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures’ horror-comedy “M3GAN,” slated to premiere next month. Thanks to the film’s titular doll, which seems like it was designed in a meme lab specifically to go viral, the film is gaining a considerable amount of traction on the app and looks likely to perform well at the box office.

The Nov. 2-8, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. A separate Nov. 2-4, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.