“Gentleminion” walked so that Barbenheimer could run

PLUS: Participatory culture
July 26, 2023
Pictured: a page from our first zine, The Multiplayer Brand, on participatory culture.

Welcome to Wednesday, futurists. 

First, we want to thank everyone who has bought a copy of The Multiplayer Brand, our newest print publication from Future Commerce. The reviews are in: it’s a hit. Buy your copy now for just $20, with free same-day shipping in the lower 48.

Worldwide shipping is available for a few bucks extra.


The thesis of The Multiplayer Brand is that brands have become more participatory than ever before. Audiences and customers want to insert themselves into the story. Sometimes this is ironic, sometimes it’s sincere.

Take the gentleminion trend. 

In July of 2022, a Tiktok trend emerged upon release of the latest installment in the Minions franchise. “Gentleminions” — boys and young men dressed in their Sunday best at public screenings of Minions: The Rise of Gru — were banned from theaters after some began throwing bananas in an ironic sendup of the Minions genre.

Ironic celebration is the beginning of cultural participation. You learn the rituals of communal experience by being exposed to it, repeatedly. Our grandparents had Catholic mass; our parents’ generation had the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

We have Barbenheimer.

The act of participating in a cultural moment creates opportunity for commerce. Sure, it may begin with lipstick and costumes. But it goes far deeper; new connections and new friendships in subcultures extend the network — and, therefore, clout — of an individual. Social graphs grow, influencers emerge, and ad tech pushes new products to new audiences.

The nature of a brand is to feel personal to the beholder. If the customer feels like the brand was made just for them, there’s a certain kind of magic (don’t call it loyalty) that happens that results in a relationship that supersedes transaction. Where theaters denied entry to banana-armed suit-wearing Gen Z’s in the era of gentleminion, they welcomed the pink-clad Barbenheimer audiences with open arms. 

But you couldn’t have had one without the other. The culture of participation is additive; behaviors evolve, adapt, and grow over time. 

Today, the word “brand” has been redefined to be a subset of design, but to me, a Brand (capital-B) is an idea that has endured despite the odds. 

For brands to endure in the 2020s, it requires letting go of the control of the brand, giving it over into the hands of your audience. 

— Phillip

P.S. Language is a game with winners and losers. Commerce is a language, too. Who’s winning the language game of commerce? The machines. Read about the new type of language game that is playing out in our very midst over on the latest FC Insiders, by Brian Lange.

Bye Bye, Birdie. Twitter’s bluebird logo has been swapped out by an “X” as part of Elon Musk’s drive to convert Twitter into a “superapp” for commerce, payments, and mesasging — like WeChat in China. The business name has been changed to X Corp and X.com already reroutes to Twitter’s homepage. 

No More Best Seats. AMC has backed away from its plans to charge higher ticket prices for better seats in theaters after test runs proved that moviegoers were not interested in the higher-priced seats. Our prediction from February did not come to pass, it seems; those with poor eyesight, or those that do not plan ahead, will not be incur a form of tax.

More Sights & Sounds. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI launched Worldcoin this week, with its main offering being a World ID to help prove that one is human, and not an AI bot. This move follows a decisive suit that cryptocurrency XRP (Ripple) was deemed not to be a security when it was sold as a coin on the public exchanges. 

Search Bar, but Using Photos. Online fashion resale giant, Poshmark, has added a new visual search feature to its app called Posh Lens. The new feature will allow users to take or upload a photo of the type of item they are searching for and the app will return search results to help shoppers find something similar.

Exec Change Out. Big moves happening in leadership across industries. Cracker Barrel has hired a new CEO, Julie Felss Masino, former president of Taco Bell International, while the mastermind of the Barbiemania has taken the vacant CEO role at GAP brands [gated link].

Deprioritizing Efficiency. The Biden administration quietly published new guidelines for assessing the legality of corporate mergers, signaling a shift away from the Reagan-era focus on efficiency as the primary goal of economic policy. The new guidelines aim to prevent corporations from acquiring excessive power and enable the government to scrutinize how mergers may harm workers, not just consumers. If applied retrospectively, many high-profile mergers of recent years may not have been allowed. The guidelines present a more human-centered approach to evaluating mergers, focusing on whether they are right rather than just efficient. This comes after the historic losses in suits filed by both the SEC and FTC to exercise checks on the power of publicly-held corporations like Coinbase and Microsoft.

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