Lessons From the ‘Star Wars’ Marketing Machine

From the time the first film debuted in 1977, to the release of the latest installment this week, the Star Wars franchise has leveraged its popularity to license $20 billion worth of goods and boost related industries.

From the get-go, the Star Wars franchise has been a marketing machine, according to the American Marketing Association. And with the release of its latest installment on December 17—Star Wars: The Force Awakens—the film continues to influence film marketing, “leveraging the popularity of the story to sell everything from burgers to vacations,” AMA said.

Star Wars toys were the first of their kind in many ways and they were the first to be able to sustain their popularity.

Even before the latest film debuted in theaters, the film broke “all known records for advance ticket sales in the U.S.,” raking in more than $50 million, Marketing Week said. A record number of tickets were also sold in the U.K., making the latest Star Wars film “the biggest promotional marketing campaign in the history of cinema.”

When the first film, Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, was released in 1977, Burger King copromoted the movie via commercials and merchandising like collectible glasses, AMA said. Though he didn’t know it at the time, Star Wars creator George Lucas’ decision to partner with the fast-food joint marked the beginning of Lucasfilm, and now parent company Disney, licensing $20 billion worth of Star Wars goods over the past 38 years.

Before the latest installment hit theaters, Disney launched an extensive merchandising push, according to Marketing Week. “Lucasfilm announced in August that it had signed up seven global partners spanning the worlds of make-up, breakfast cereals, sandwiches, and telecommunications for an ‘expansive, historic promotional campaign’,” Marketing Week reported. On top of that, Disney unveiled the latest Star Wars toys this past September during “Force Friday.” Retailers opened stores at midnight to accommodate fans, and there was an 18-hour global “unboxing” streamed live on YouTube.

Though fans had not been officially introduced to new characters in the film when the merchandise was unveiled, glimpses of the new characters fueled consumer demand, Toy Industry Association (TIA) CEO Steve Pasierb told the Associated Press. “It’s pretty rare, but in the age of social media, you can get those characters out and create buzz around these things in ways that you couldn’t in the past,” he said.

TIA Trend Analyst Adrienne Appell expects toy sales to increase about 6 percent this Christmas season after remaining stagnant in recent years. “We think a lot of that increase has a lot to do with the excitement for the new Star Wars film and the demand for toys associated with it,” Appell said. “Star Wars toys were the first of their kind in many ways and they were the first to be able to sustain their popularity.”

The toy industry isn’t the only one that expects to profit from the marketing buzz surrounding the film. Movie theaters can use the film as an opportunity to engage with audience members, particularly those that rarely go to the theater, said U.K. Cinema Association CEO Phil Clapp.

“The hope and expectation with films like Star Wars is that it will get people into the cinema who haven’t been for a very long time,” he said. Given the movie will likely run in theaters longer than most other films, theater operators have an opportunity to bring fans in multiple times.

“Anything that adds to the general air of excitement—costume nights, midnight screenings—will extend the buzz, reach, and impact of the film, and I’m sure a number of sites are looking at things like that,” Clapp said.


Katie Rucke

By Katie Rucke

Katie Rucke is former Associate Editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!