The Force of Star Wars Marketing

10 years ago the Star Wars prequel trilogy limped to a close and the film franchise was as good as dead. Now, it’s all change.

The history of the films’ success is widely known. Ahead of the release of Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas had already rejected a higher director’s salary in favour of retaining all the licensing rights for merchandise and any sequels. In short, the original trilogy made him a very rich man.

And while Lucas no longer has day-to-day involvement, having sold the job-lot for $4 billion to Disney in 2012, there’s no doubting the hype surrounded the newest addition to the franchise – The Force Awakens.

Helmed by J.J. Abrams, this, the seventh Star Wars film, has displayed some interested marketing tactics ever since the first cast photo was released in April 2014.

Star Wars Force Awakens Cast Photo

Trailers, secrecy and no-shows

The mostly widely distributed marketing of any film, the trailers, have carefully hinted at the plot without explicitly revealing too much. Thankfully. Although the less said about the content of some of the TV spots, the better. (I’ve managed to steer clear of those).

Each one ramped up the hype, until the near-perfect third trailer which blended subtle character exposition with John Williams’ famous score. This left all viewers in awe and wishing for a TARDIS to reach mid-December, with so many questions filling website comment sections.

  • How do the new, younger members of the cast connect to the story?
  • Who is Kylo Ren and what’s his plan?
  • How does Andy Serkis’ character (the voice in trailer one) fit into all of this?
  • And, most importantly, where the hell is Luke Skywalker?

So secretive is the plot that it’s even had an impact on the toys and action figures. Working closely with Lucasfilms, Hasbro have only released toys from the ‘first third of the film’, ensuring details such as weapons, outfits and even text descriptions were scrutinised.

And, to fans, that level of secrecy only heightens expectation.

Star Wars Force Awakens Action Figures

The BBC breaking their own rules?

Of all the methods The Force Awakens has reached our ears and eyes, the BBC’s inclusion during their Children In Need Special stood out. Not particularly because of the quality or humour, although Martin Freeman’s comic timing from The Office remains, but largely because it was such a blatant advert for the film.

The sketch depicts Warwick Davis in his hunt to find the ultimate Star Wars’ fan; the chosen one who would reveal the first totaliser figure of the evening. It features a whole host of celebrities vying for the honour, all ultimately losing out to the one of the newest characters of the franchise – BB8.

BB-8 Star Wars Force Awakens

It’s no secret that the BBC is being challenged to prove it’s value, with calls to scrap the license fee and move to an advertising-paid model, so cutting a deal with Star Wars is a smart move. And, as a strong proponent for the content produced by the BBC, I support any methods that look to keep it as close to its current incarnation as possible.

Even Simon Cowell is involved

The Dark Lord of reality television, Simon Cowell, even got the X Factor involved in the marketing push. He walked out to the famous ‘Imperial March’ theme from the films, flanked by the new generation of Stormtroopers.

Simon-Cowell-backstage-with-Storm-Troopers
Not as imposing as when Darth Vader did it, and with more chest hair, but fairly entertaining. Another example of an indirect marketing tactic, working alongside the trailers, toys and general advertising.

There’s still room for the bizarre

Not every tie-in for the movie is what you might call normal, or even overtly logical. Some strike me as a brands jumping on the bandwagon, just because they can.

Brands like CoverGirl and Max Factor (both owned by Proctor and Gamble), have developed tie-in beauty products such as make-up, nail varnish and lipsticks. On the surface this might not make sense, but clearly it’s an attempt to tap into the female market as the movie’s fanbase is dominated by men, proven by the opening weekend box office revenue.

CoverGirl haven’t really done a lot besides include their products in marketing messaging, but Max Factor’s Star Wars Make-up Tutorials on the Boots website is actually a pretty clever piece of content marketing.

star Wars Force Awakens Max Factor

I do think the HP Star Wars Special Edition Notebook is a bit of a lazy attempt to cash-in; its reviews have been middling at best and if you’re targeting the Star Wars audience, why isn’t it also a decent gaming machine? Excluding price reasons, this seems like a missed opportunity to me.

However, the best/most bizarre of the lot, are these Star Wars oranges, linked to the new droid BB-8, simply because they’re both round. Brilliant and daft in equal measures.

Star Wars Force Awakens BB-8 Oranges

It really is working

Together, these marketing efforts and the general hype for the return of the Star Wars franchise, mean it’s breaking box office records. And from what I’ve heard and read, deservedly so. It’s unlikely to eclipse Avatar as the highest-grossing film of all time, but it will comfortably reach the the top 5, and probably the top 3.

Now, at time of publishing, to actually see the damn thing*.

*23 December 2015 update – it’s great!

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Dave

Dad to Zach, digital marketeer at Tank PR, Derby County fan, film buff, book worm and husband. In that order, but don't tell the wife.