Merry Grinchmas!

Illumination Entertainment’s marketing strategy for The Grinch was sort of weird.

But it was so good.

The advertising team created a Twitter account where they trash talked NBA players and heckled NFL teams, the Grammy-nominated rapper (Tyler, the Creator) who created the movie’s theme song is banned from the UK, and multiple advertisements showed real-life scenarios of the Grinch being, well, the Grinch. Why do all of this for a kids’ movie? 

Why on Earth is there a seven-foot-tall Grinch in the LA Lakers locker room?

At the beginning of November, Lakers center, JaVale McGee, spoke to reporters at a post-game press conference wearing a giant Grinch costume. This was just a small piece to the marketing team’s puzzle, as they recruited even bigger NBA stars for their marketing. All who became victims of the Grinch.

The unwritten and inadvertent Instagram to NBA partnership

A popular subject of conversation in sports media is how social media impacts sports. Think about it, it’s a great platform for sports. Platforms like Instagram allow teams, players and outlets to easily post the games most incredible highlights. Instagram only allows a video length of one-minute, any longer and users have to use their carousel scroll feature to include more of the clip. This is the perfect amount of time to put together a miniature highlight video. With as much time as people spend on social platforms, this provides ample opportunity to leagues and players to market themselves by placing highlights directly in front of the user.

But when compared to the rest of America’s favorite sports, the NBA took social media by storm.

The NBA’s chokehold on social media created a phenomenon we have never really seen before in the sports world—where fans become die-hard fans of PLAYERS rather than an individual TEAM. And when compared to the rest of the sports leagues, the follower count of players in other American professional leagues do not even come close to the NBA.

For instance, of the Top 10 athletes from America’s big 3 professional leagues—MLB, NFL, NBA—8 of them are from the NBA. Of the 84.5 million followers totaled within this top 10, the NBA holds 70 million of them, roughly 83 percent.

It’s important to note that many of these followers probably follow multiple athletes, but you get the point—the NBA dominates social media. This set up a unique opportunity to market the Grinch’s personality with the NBA.

The Grinch belongs in the NBA

Golden State forward, Draymond Green, and Philadelphia center, Joel Embiid, are poster boys of the NBA’s top trash talkers. When they trash another player—on social media or on the court—the sports media goes bananas about it. A big part of becoming a marketable star in the NBA is personality, and these two have a lot of it. They’re the type of athletes that are not just recognizable in the NBA, but in pop culture as well—they’re the NBA’s meme.

And what Dr. Seuss character is their trash-talking equivalent? You guessed it, The Grinch.

The Grinch’s social media strategy was unique. Not only did the marketing team use his personality for social media trash talk, but they recruited players most like him and let his rude personality take the spotlight. These commercials, which were not necessarily aired exclusively on social media, including stars of the social media world.

In three different commercials, he called an NBA player—Draymond Green, Joel Embiid and JR Smith. When the player answered their phone, he “trolled” them—social media’s version of trash talking.

He poked fun at Joel Embiid’s catchphrase, “Trust the process,” and proceeded to make fun of Embiid for being rejected by music icon, Rihanna. (She is that “certain someone” Grinch mentions)


He called Draymond Green “Green and grumpy.” (Green due to his last name.)



And he reminded JR Smith of his NBA Finals Game 1 meltdown. I personally thought that one was off limits.



Poor JR Smith, he rarely trash talks, but his Game 1 meltdown may have cost LeBron James his legacy and will likely be cemented in NBA history. He thought his team was winning, so he dribbled out the time instead of letting LeBron James take the game-winning shot. This sent the game into overtime against arguably the greatest NBA team ever assembled, where the Cleveland Cavaliers  inevitably lost.


So how did these social media strategies target multiple audiences?

The Grinch is seen as a kids movie, but is it really a kids movie? The book was published in 1957, had a 1966 TV special, and Jim Carrey made the Grinch come to life on the big screen in 2000. The advertisers needed to reach generations of people to effectively market the movie to it’s fullest extent. What better way to do that than through social media and ties to the NBA?

Social media use only increases by each generation. The generation after yours uses it more, and the next one will use it more than its predecessor. The age group 18-24 has the most Twitter and Instagram usage—the same platforms popular with NBA stars—of the generations. And younger teenagers are certainly more likely to use the platforms. The unique part is this 18-24 age rage would have been newborns to 6 years old when Jim Carey’s Grinch hit the big screen. The new Grinch movie’s marketing strategy helped target children, parents and the generation most susceptible to nostalgia less who are also likely to have children. Both my little brother and I fall into the 18-24 age range, and you bet we made plans to watch it during the holidays.

While the commercials were not directly on social media, the characters were. Couple this with the Grinch’s personal Twitter account and it creates the perfect opportunity to parent the Grinch’s personality with the side of social media not for the faint of heart. While it certainly helps to have a product as world-renowned as The Grinch, the marketing team still made sure to market what separated The Grinch from most kids movies—the rudeness. No matter the product or brand, any business can learn from how Illumination marketed this movie, by uniquely marketing what made their product different. 

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