Star Wars: The marketing phenomenon every brand wants to be part of

With the new Star Wars film premiering in London tomorrow (16 December), brands are jostling to make sure they are part of one of the biggest events of 2015.

When it came to building anticipation, Disney started early. It announced in August this year that it had signed up seven brands for what it calls an “expansive, historic promotional campaign”.

The brands, which include Covergirl, Max Factor, Duracell, FCA US, General Mills, HP, Subway and Verizon are all developing custom campaigns for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Lucasfilm, which is the studio behind the film, says it chose the brands for their “excellence in their fields” and diverse global reach.

Brands jump on the bandwagon

However, this hasn’t stopped other companies from jumping on the bandwagon. For example, Tesco organised a flurry of Star Wars-themed in store events last weekend (12 and 13 December), which invited customers and their children to learn to wield a lightsaber, colour in a cosmic masterpiece and take part in a treasure hunt to win prizes.

Meanwhile, Facebook is adding to the excitement by inviting its users to add lightsabers to their profile pictures. The official Star Wars Facebook account has released a tool today (15 December) for its mega fans which allows them to add a blue or red lightsaber to their image, giving them the opportunity to choose between joining “the light or the dark side”.


Across the pond, the franchise has even expanded into the fruit and veg aisle. The fresh food campaign “brings the power of the Force to the produce aisle” to celebrate the company’s “commitment to building healthier generations”, according to a statement from Disney.

The products caused quite the stir on social media, with one outraged Twitter user stating: “Disney needs to chill with the Star Wars Force Awakens branding. Star Wars apples is where I draw the line.” Others were more positive. Another Twitter user, Nick Lewis, said: “Star Wars merchandising is getting out of hand, but hopefully more kids are eating fruit.”

Marketing Week’s own columnist Mark Ritson has also waded into the issue by pointing out the wide and sometimes bizarre range of tie-ups, including Star Wars-branded nail varnish from Covergirl and a special edition ‘dark side’ laptop from HP. Ritson argues that such partnerships lead marketers to neglect their brand strategies in favour of short-term tactical activations.

Awakening the licensing potential

Beyond the dodgy brand tie-ups and large-scale campaigns, there is also the licensing opportunity. Star Wars is likely to generate £90m in sales of Star Wars toy sales alone in the UK this year, up from £49m in 2014.

For context, Frozen toy sales were worth £75m last year.

star wars lego figures

To make the most of that opportunity Disney began planning its licensing activity much earlier than is usual for a film release. Back in September, almost three months before the film’s premiere, Disney held what it dubbed “Force Friday”, where it looked to promote its merchandise to the masses.

Kelvyn Gardner, UK managing director at the Licensing Industry Mercandisers’ Association, says. “Generally speaking merchandise launches would usually happen around 4 weeks before a film’s release as reviews start appearing in the press.

“The level of expectation for Star Wars has led Disney to think it had better let stuff out early to ensure fans can get their hands on some product.”

There have been products from Lego and Electronic Arts and Hasbro. But the opportunity this time is wider than it has ever been for brands.

Ahead of the release, Star Wars changed its licensing strategy. Simon Philips, general manager of Disney Consumer Products in EMEA, says has meant a shift in focus from product first to consumer.

“We were very product orientated. In many instances we would have a list of products to license and the same products licensed for each franchise. Skateboards, tick. T-shirts, tick.”

“It’s understanding the differences in the consumer to develop the right product.”

Simon Philips, SVP and GM, Disney Consumer Products, EMEA

There is also an increased focus on lifestyle products, meaning products that “embody the characteristics of the character” but without huge Star Wars pictures emblazoned on them.

Disney has also expanded the brands it works with, working with the likes of Givenchy on Bambi and has brought that thinking to Star Wars.

Doing experiential globally and locally

It’s not hard to find a Star Wars event to go along to. For the fanboi there are events such as Comic Con.

For the culture vulture there was an exhibit at Discovery Times Square in New York showcasing ‘Star Wars and the power of costume’ with a detailed look at how designers took the ideas from the mind of creator George Lucas to the set.

In Vienna, the Museum of Applied Arts promised a “whole new way to rediscover the unforgettable characters of Star Wars”.

Yet despite the global appeal there are also local events. In Leytonstone last weekend (12 December) people dressed up as storm troopers (with one Darth Vader to lead them) to celebrate the life of make-up artist Stuart Freeborn, who was born in the borough.

At his house on Grove Green Road they unveiled a blue heritage plaque in his honour.



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