A Grain of Salt: Star Wars – A Force of Product Marketing

 “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?”

The more I reflect on these words from the first teaser trailer of The Force Awakens, the more I realise how wrongly I had interpreted them. The “awakening”, to which the (most likely) main villain of the new trilogy is referring, doesn’t simply lie in the film itself… At this moment, it pervades the very fabric of the advertising world globally. The Force isn’t just calling you (which now, thanks to smart phones, it probably could), it’s banging on your door and following you around. Every. Single. Day.

When you consider the world of 1999, when the first trailer for The Phantom Menace dropped, there was no YouTube… There was no Twitter, no Facebook… We weren’t connected to the world of information as intrinsically as we are today… And yet, we still faced a Star Wars “invasion”, licences for merchandising exploded and The Phantom Menace moved over $1bn in merchandise in 1999 alone.

Today, it seems like every facet of media, new and old, is drip feeding new information about the film every hour. And of course, people are taking in every piece of it. Whether streaming Monday Night Football live in the middle of the night, watching “unboxings” of the latest toys, or playing the latest Star Wars: Battlefront (I know, I was disappointed too…) one thing is for sure… Star Wars’ content, much like the force, is all around us…Even in your emails.


Force(d) Connections

Indeed, The Force Awakens possibly represents the greatest opportunity, for film-related tie-ins, of all time. So far anyway… The enduring popularity of Star Wars after nearly 40 years, the immense power and marketing capital of Lucas Films and Disney combined and the fact that these are all intertwined with our perpetually connected world make this a truly incomparable chance to take advantage of broad (yet reasoned) licensing agreements, aligning brands to the appeal of one of the biggest brands in history.

And why wouldn’t you…? When it comes to media channels, few offer the scope of opportunity that Disney does:

Disney Marketing Map
The media channels offer the other areas a multiplier effect and further expand reach through international connections (Wired)

In fact, there are so many companies looking to align themselves with Star Wars, that you’ll find good ones, bad ones… And some, almost, logic leaping ones:

ANA Planes
One of the first, and best, brand associations for The Force Awakens, by All Nippon Airways
BBQ Tongs
You may think these are silly… But they make Lightsaber noises too!
Coffee Mate
If you don’t like it, even Darth Vader won’t make you buy it.

From a Certain Point of View

Some brands might not do well from brand alignment, some brands succeed… Covergirl’s tie in is something I initially had very strong feelings about…

What you see here is Droid (Left) and Stormtrooper (Right)… Despite appearances, the strategy is actually very good.

Now, when I first saw that CoverGirl were bringing out a Star Wars makeup line, I thought it was cynical, with no objective but to be seen ‘in the same room’ as the Star Wars brand… But after I thought about it, two thoughts came to mind:

  1. Women and Star Wars – While the history of Star Wars is rather light on Women (the original trilogy only had 4 women with lines… That’s in TOTAL, combined, including Carrie Fisher!), the themes of Star Wars still appeal to everyone and the most recent movie is taking (more) advantage of this at least with Carrie Fisher, Daisey Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie each playing key roles.Now, young girls, and older women who’ve grown up with Star Wars and only Princess Leia in that world, finally have more female role models in the Star Wars world they can aspire or, at least, relate to. And secondly…
  2. The Bladerunner effect – Otherwise known as the “cool thing in that sci-fi movie I want”… Now, that movie featured more product placement (unfortunately also had an alleged curse with it), but the concept is that science fiction, while futuristic and fantastical, still offers marketers with a glimpse of a future when non-existent products are ubiquitous… Sometimes, those products become a reality (Smart phones are totally Star Trek tri-corders), other times they don’t. But how many times have you watched a sci-fi movie and thought “Why don’t things look like that today?” or “I wish I could have that now”.Now, the good thing about Star Wars, in particular, is the LACK of products found in any movies or extended content. What it does do well, however, is it builds an entire universe of exotic cultures and styles, from clothing to makeup and even the styles of Lightsaber. This world of futuristic cultures resonates particularly well, as it provides a stylised (sometimes idealistic) view of our current cultures, so while it might seem completely alien in ways, it also feels very much familiar and comfortable.
I imagine this is basically what the early 80’s looked like anyway…

In the end, CoverGirls’ strategy is a strong one… In considering the shifting demographics and broadening appeal associated with a more ‘modern’, or inclusive, Star Wars world, CoverGirl is able to capitalise on a few key points:

  • Engendering early associations with younger girls who’s first exposure to Star Wars is a more Female inclusive one (i.e. the association is more easily accepted).
  • Converting older women who may have wanted greater access to more relatable Star Wars products.
  • The desire for people to be able to recreate styles, situations or even visit locations they see presented in an aspirational, yet achievable, context in film or wider pop culture.

And it certainly won me over in terms of it’s purpose and effectiveness…

Here’s an experiential event they ran in Australia recently, courtesy of Pedestrian.TV.

Beware the power of the Dark Side

Sure, I’ve got tickets to a midnight screening for the opening night of the new Star Wars… It’s already made around $50m in pre-sales (Australia only…) and is tipped, by some, to make around $261m. Which begs the question, which has also slightly played on my mind… What if it’s just a bit shit?

Keep one thing in mind: This new movie is the start of a whole new trilogy (a movie every 2 years) with 3 separate spin offs (the alternating 2 years). There is a huge amount of investment in this movie, not just financially, but also in brand equity… If this first installment fails, the next 5 will have a hard time recovering… If it’s successful, though, then all the better for everyone. But with all things, aligning yourself with a movie brings risk:

  • Connection to Failure – If you align your products with something which is of poor quality, that perception could extend to your product, or brand as a whole.
  • Issues of controversy – When it comes to Star Wars, I’ve addressed women already… But did you see no more companies would be allowed to use the ‘Slave Leia’ costume?  Shouldn’t take long to understand why…
  • Out of alignment – while it might be a good idea to try and go where the money is, your product, while able to be licensed, might not really suit the crowd tied to the alignment target… For example: Star Trek Coffins? Avengers Colognes?
  • Drowned by success – Following the previous point, what if it’s a huge success… So much so it turns out that no one cares about separate brand tie-ins and only go for ‘authentic’ merchandise? Won’t say much for return of investment.
  • Collateral damage – Does, for example, my exclusive, luxury brand suffer from dilution when aligned with such a mass appeal

So, while there may be an enormous opportunity to capitalise on what could be the defining moment of the Star Wars franchise’s success, brands need always remind themselves of the reality of aligning themselves with an entity outside their influence and keep in mind some simple questions:

  1. Does what I am associating with resonate with my current target market?
  2. Will it expand the target market and potential sell-through of our product(s)?
  3. Could it alienate any existing/potential end-users?
  4. Will the success of the alignment flow through to my product/brand?

See you at the movies! And yes; May the Force be with you!




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