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How The Grinch's super-meta, totally Grinch-y ad campaign turned its box office green

Contributed by
Nov 12, 2018

The Grinch has landed at the box office with a debut haul that has its studio feeling anything but grouchy, reportedly thanks in no small part to a surging turnout from millennials and Gen Z fans — a group that’s supposed to be jaded to the whimsical allure of a traditional Dr. Seuss tale, right? 

But Universal’s outside-the-box marketing campaign for the Benedict Cumberbatch-voiced grump’s early-November debut is partly to thank for generating the kind of viral buzz that turns other movies green with envy, according to a deep dive by The Hollywood Reporter. Instead of pitching the family-friendly movie at trend-savvy urban audiences with straightforward come-ons that zero in on cartoonish comedy or maudlin holiday sentiment, the studio went straight for the snark.

In a hyper-local billboard campaign that unleashed the Grinch’s mean side on residents in major cities, the studio got very meta, and very Grinch-y, with the insults. Aspiring stars in Los Angeles were treated to billboards hurling insults like “Of course you’ll make it as an actor” and “Oh, you’re trying to make it in Hollywood? Let me know how that goes.”

New Yorkers got the savage meta-treatment, too, with Mister Grinch casting aspersions at both locals (“Rude. Loud. Angry. New Yorkers are my kinda people”) and Times Square tourists (“Good luck getting those Hamilton tickets.”)

Even though it costs more money and takes more time to develop locally-targeted ads just so the Grinch can inform Chicagoans he’s “seen windier cities” and San Franciscans that the “rent is so cheap here,” the numbers don’t lie: “18 percent of ticket buyers on opening weekend were between the ages of 18-24, compared with 12 percent for Illumination's last animated feature, Despicable Me 3, which debuted in summer 2018,” observes THR.

The Grinch might be insulting people to get them into theaters, but it must be making them feel just fine as they walk out. The movie topped the weekend box office, netting $67 million over second-place Bohemian Rhapsody and third-place Overlord, which debuted at $10 million. Critics have also raved about the latest take on the tale, which doesn't hurt the word of mouth.

Starring Cumberbatch, who follows in the Christmas-hating footsteps of Grinchly forebears Jim Carrey and Boris Karloff, alongside a star cast including Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, and Angela Lansbury, The Grinch is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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