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    How Angry Birds Built an Empire on 300 Thumb Swipes

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Angry Bird soda is now the best-selling soft drink in Finland. It beats out Coke and Pepsi, easy. And there’s a wide range of merchandise available, too; t-shirts, stuffed animals etc, a major motion picture is incoming, and even amusement parks. As in, Six Flags Angry Birds. There are Star Wars tie-ins, a cascade of new editions.

    What’s especially impressive about this budding corporate empire is that the franchise never even had to develop a storyline or a narrative to get kids to buy in—it just took a single iPhone app. When Hasbro wanted to sell Transformers™, remember, it had to whip up a whole TV series when advertising to kids was nixed by regulators. They hired a writing staff, developed public interest in characters, in heroism and villainy and scrappiness; in Optimus Prime and Megatron and Bumble Bee. The other massively popular toy lines of yore that masqueraded as myths had to do the same—My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, and so on.

    And sure, Angry Birds is stepping up now—its TV series on Nickelodeon should be airing about now—but those advertising bucks are almost an afterthought. Angry Birds product lines are already here, they’re already moving units. We’re already purchasing items with the Angry Birds likeness, and the kids don’t care an iota of what those characters represent; which, as of now it should be noted, is nothing. Maybe perpetual repetition. Or noble indifference towards the prospect of soaring headlong into a cluster blocks.

    Either way, we’ve seen, perhaps for the first time, the rise of an entire animated mythology in which there is no myth to speak of. We have no reason to cheer a yellow Angry Bird or boo a green pig, except for the fact that we repeatedly make one smash into the other. Yet we don’t have any good idea why the birds are hurling into pig after pig. They’re nothing but a handful of familiar icons. No, it’s an entire mythologized merch-selling empire built not on narrative, but this:

    Thumb swipes. That’s what they actually look like; all 300 of the winning thumb swipes necessary for beating the first game. It is an empire built on thumb swipes.

    So why? Why would you want an Angry Bird on your soda, your lunchbox, your t-shirt? Your toys? Is it because the mild amusement of all those idle hours swiping that iPhone app translates into comfort? Is it pure familiarity? That kids have spent so long staring at those disembodied bird-heads that they’ve simply grown fond of the sight of them? I guess it’s something like that. Advertisers and merchandisers must be relieved—writing and producing TV shows and adapting comic books is expensive. It’s so much easier just to do an app.