Is the marketing force of Star Wars too strong?
The first job I ever had was working as a sales assistant in a toy store when I was in high school. I learned many things from my time there, but the one lesson that always stuck with me was how much money Star Wars products raked in. There was not a single day where we didn’t have at least one person walk out of the store with a Star Wars themed toy, board game, key chain, bobble head or plush.
The financial success of Star Wars is palpable, and at first glance may seem like nothing more than the by-product of a timeless, lovable movie franchise with a loyal fan base. But the truth is that this success has been the result of some strategic marketing.
"A long time ago...."
Star Wars branded merchandise has been around since the first movie came out in 1977. It was during the filming of it that George Lucas decided to take a $ 500,000 pay-cut to his director’s salary in exchange for full ownership over the franchise’s merchandising rights. This decision proved VERY profitable for himself and his production company, Lucasfilms, with over $20 billion worth of goods being licenced by them until the company was bought out by Disney in 2012 (all licencing rights thereafter belonged to Disney).
“Use the Force”
According to NPD Group, the Star Wars brand finds its place in the top five licensed toy brands each year (which is no surprise to me). However, you can find just about any sort of product in a Star Wars collaboration of some sort. In other words, the profiting power of the Star Wars merch reaches far beyond the toy industry.
The “Force” of the franchise’s marketing is multi-faceted, but I’d say the main ingredient in the recipe of Star Wars’ success is nostalgia. The second is creating a cult following- complete with a special day of fandom celebration and various clubs and events which encourage fans to be loyal.
I encourage you to read Jon Tan's comprehensive article on Star Wars’ marketing success here.
“Jaws was never my scene and I don’t like Star Wars”
Star Wars’ success is a great case study in marketing terms. On the other hand, though, the hyper-marketing of the brand has affected the way in which many people view the movies, as well as the integrity of the brand.
I would say the main thing that peeves me (and many like me) is how often the Star Wars cash cow gets milked. But then again, if this were a franchise I were a fan of, I would probably be ecstatic at the opportunity to buy some Star Wars branded lipstick. I guess I just find the exploitation of powerful emotions for profit is a bit disenchanting. But maybe it’s because I was never enchanted to begin with.
Furthermore, as Joel Anderson of Equities.com points out, "the movie itself is just an elaborate centrepiece in a huge campaign to sell action figures and video games". Star Wars isn’t much about the movies at all- it’s about the culture and community which has formed around it. Whether people love or hate the movies, there’ll always be plenty of money coming in.
Ultimately, it all depends on what you want for your brand- if you want money, then study what Star Wars has done and integrate some of their techniques into your own marketing efforts. But if you want to maintain a level of sincerity and integrity by not exploiting weaknesses such as nostalgia and lovable characters for profit, then the story of Star Wars is a great example of what not to do.