‘Despicable Me 2' blimp enters new frontier of movie marketing

A blimp owned by Van Wagner Communications is on a six-month tour promoting Universal Pictures' upcoming film "Despicable Me 2."
(Suzanne Hanover)

If you looked up into the Los Angeles sky this past weekend, you may have spotted a slowly moving blimp emblazoned with the mammoth image of a one-eyed yellow creature.

The 165-foot-long craft, which is slated to fly over Phoenix on Thursday, displays the image of a “minion” -- one of the jabbering, pill-shaped beings featured in Universal Pictures’ “Despicable Me” franchise.


Universal and Van Wagner Communications, the owner of the airship, are calling it the “Despicablimp.” The 55-foot-tall dirigible is scheduled to tour the United States over the next six months to promote the upcoming release of “Despicable Me 2.”

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The film, produced by Illumination Entertainment -- the main supplier of family movies to Universal -- is set to come out July 3.

Van Wagner, a New York-based outdoor advertising company, got into the blimp business last year when it acquired the Lightship Group, a blimp advertising operator, and the American Blimp Corp., the designer and manufacturer of Lightship’s blimps.

Van Wagner now operates 19 blimps. The company’s CEO, Richard Schaps, said the firm has only just begun to market the craft to movie studios. “We look at it as a large, moving billboard,” he said. “I do not by any means think this will be the last movie promotion for blimps.”

On Saturday, the “Despicablimp,” made its official debut by flying over USC’s Galen Center while Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards took place inside.

The airship, an A-150 blimp, is a relatively unique marketing tool. Though companies such as Goodyear and Nickelodeon have long used blimps as flying advertisements, Schaps said he was unaware of any movie studio contracting an airship for such a lengthy or complex promotion.

“The blimp is a soft, lovable item,” he said. “There is something engaging about a blimp, as opposed to a billboard, which can sometimes be intrusive.”

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The “Despicablimp” is expected to log about 20,000 miles as it travels across the country. Unlike a billboard, though, it requires fuel and staff -- a pilot and a crew of 14, Schaps said.

Van Wagner and Universal, whose parent, NBCUniversal, is owned by cable giant Comcast Corp., declined to disclose the financial details of their deal.

Suzanne Cole, executive vice president of media advertising for Universal, said the idea for a “Despicable Me 2" blimp came up in a brainstorming meeting held at Universal about a year ago. “We said, ‘Wouldn’t a blimp be great?’ We then started doing some investigating and then came to find out that Van Wagner had purchased the Lightship Group,” she said.

Cole said it is possible that future Universal films could warrant the use of a blimp for marketing purposes, though not many movies would lend themselves to such an out-size promotion. “We tailor everything we do to the specifics of the property,” she said.

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The first “Despicable Me” film was released in 2010. Centered on a villain named Gru and his efforts to steal the Earth’s moon with the help of his minions, it grossed $544 million worldwide.

Eddie Egan, head of marketing at Illumination, which also worked on the project, said he climbed onto the roof of a friend’s home in the Hollywood Hills to get a view of the “Despicablimp” as it traveled toward the Galen Center on Saturday.

“I was just struck by how a great idea can become a reality through determination,” he said. “Really, the goal was for [people] to just look up in the sky and smile.”


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