Does It Even Make Sense to Spend Money on STAR WARS?

With the release this week of the STAR WARS films on Blu-ray around the world, we are provided with a key opportunity to question whether marketing spends are even necessary for brands like this. Please know that I fully intend to own the Blu-ray set, have downloaded the STAR WARS Blu-ray iPad APP and have a number of friends who are working on this campaign on behalf of Fox.

First, let’s get the basics down:

  1. This is one of the biggest franchises in the history of film with a huge fan base.
  2. The fans are deeply involved. Some would argue they are fanatical.
  3. With a fully developed and established site in, there is a clear information destination.
  4. With both Lucas Arts and 20th Century Fox, there are many different hands in the pot.

So, when looking at a release of this magnitude, it is quite easy to be equally enthusiastic about blowing it out in a huge campaign and doing nothing.  I am sure everyone involved in this campaign fell somewhere in between.

While it is an exciting proposition to work on a title like this, the question should be “do we need to?” As opposed to marketing a new product or changing direction on an existing one, this one was a format update to a well-loved product. With that, the choices are not so cut and dried. 

It is questionable how many more fans you’re going to draw in with digital manipulatives of characters for online or mobile unless it is absolutely groundbreaking and buzzworthy (The Simpson’s Avatar Builder seemed to be able to fit that bill.) So it then becomes a question of how much do you do, when do you do it and how much do you rely on the fans.

As you can see above, there is clearly not a dearth in fan-generated content at any time and some, like Oskoui-Oskoui, have used the opportunity to create these form parodies, faux old style travel posters for locations from the franchise and even a series of pictographs.

The fans will also smell out anything that is distributed by a studio that is not consistent with the story.  There is already quite a buzz surrounding the reviews depicting the additions of things like digitally adding eyelids to Ewoks.  If people will call out an eyelid on an Ewok, they are certain to hem-and-haw about even more.

In the case of this campaign, Lucas Arts and Fox Home Entertainment announced the release at CES in January.  They were able to leverage a large amount of press and the platform of the electronics show to drum up anticipation.  One key thing they recognized as an added value was the partnership with Amazon allowing them to be the exclusive pre-sellers.  The Home Entertainment business is deftly positioned to take advantage of the ability to pre-sell.  In some EMEA markets, retailers use pre-sales figures to determine how many units they will order. So, this strategy seemed like a good one as they were able to get in the press due to the large platform and also provided a launch point for pre-sales.

Where it seems things might have gone wrong were not really a reflection on Fox’s marketing of this product, but of a general lack of focus on the overall brand.  As someone who watched the films when they came out and was afraid of Darth Vader, it is highly disappointing to see the breakdancing Vader at the theme park.  In fact, Vader is now too friendly.  There was a nice progression of the character in episodes 4-6 that allowed even a kid to understand the character’s complexities.  Regardless of what people thought of episodes 1-3, there was an even further opportunity to understand the character more.  How did that change from strong character to silly caricature?  As mentioned above, there are now theme park destinations, animated shows and an overall simplifaction of the Star Wars ethos.

With so many varied properties under the STAR WARS banner, its got to be challenging to figure out how you depict the franchise and how you present those chosen depictions to the broad audience.

For this reason, the campaign was probably best served by using PR and Digital Marketing outlets to seed footage that was exclusive to the Blu-ray set and also create strong AV to place in TV and Digital media.  A lot of that content will be placed for free and then shared just because of the enthusiasm for the brand. But certainly, there has to be a spend against on-air and on key digital outlets.

Most everything beyond PR ad AV is superfluous as they should be able to use the to communicate consistently to their users and many of the big tastemakers will be willing to post and discuss the release if provided with compelling disc content. 

It all comes down to timing and strategy.  The announce timing seemed strong.  Some follow-up pushes of content seemed to be forced and didn’t seem to offer much as they were sort of hodge-podge.  The spots on-air seem to be solid – or as solid as a clip for a six-movie franchise can be.

In the end, it does make sense to spend money on a franchise like Star Wars, but common sense and clear strategy is paramount to ultimate success.  It is still yet to be seen how sales do for this product, but it is clear that this campaign was not as simple as it might have seemed – regardless of the size of the Force…


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