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What “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Can Teach Us about Marketing

It’s been a week now since the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise hit theaters, breaking all box office records along its way. I’m sure that there is much more money in Disney’s future. That’s the ending of this story. Now for the beginning...


Think about the many months leading up to the release of the latest movie. About how much Star Wars we were all exposed to. Every YouTube video went viral. You pretty much couldn’t go to the grocery store without seeing Star Wars branded food – yes, food – Star Wars Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, cereal, soap, soup… the list goes on. Then there were the toys. You thought Black Friday was a big deal, then along came “Force Friday.” Yes, two months prior to the movie release itself, a release date for Star Wars merchandise became an event. How big? According to most sources, that single day generated over $1 billion (with a “b”) in sales.


But what does this have to do with marketing? Or social media?


Most major big-budget movie releases spend upwards of $50 million on television ads leading up to the movie’s release.  According to the Wall Street Journal, as of Monday, Dec. 7, two weeks before the movie’s release, Disney had only shelled out about $17 million. You want to know the truly amazing part? The companies Disney selected as official partners have spent $38 million in co-branded television advertising. Yes, somehow Disney managed to get other companies to spend twice as much money advertising the movie as Disney itself did.


Just about every company that could – whether in a licensing agreement or not – made some effort to be included in and engage with their audience about this single movie. Even Facebook changed its normal “What’s on your mind” status update prompt to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens today! Are you excited to see it? Let your friends know.” It would seem that the marketing machine at Disney is very smart. Could they have spent $100 million on television ads? Of course. But chose not to. The reason is simple. The marketing team threw out content they felt sure people would want to share. They also gave a few top influencer companies permission to piggyback on the hype and then sat back and let the world collectively drool while everything Star Wars sold out, went viral or was blogged about.


And they did this for one simple reason: They knew that there was more power in other people talking about their product than in talking about it themselves. This single concept is true in all marketing, public relations, content marketing and social media. While there certainly were benefits to the co-branding partnerships for the partners themselves (think Star Wars fans buying mac & cheese simply because the box has Yoda on it), there were far more benefits to Disney by letting other brands inundate the world with Star Wars themed packaging and merchandise; essentially transforming grocery stores into huge Star Wars billboards.


So, the next time you’re sitting in your office at the dealership trying to figure out the best way to get exposure with your audience, take a lesson out of the Disney playbook and figure out ways to get others to share your brand for you. You’ll find out very quickly that the Force will be your ally.

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Tags: advertising, automotive, content, digital, influencer, marketing, media, movie, social, star, More…viral, wars


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Comment by Paul Moran on January 4, 2016 at 9:39am

Thanks for the comment, Tom. Of course you are right that Star Wars has a huge edge in co-branding. Co-branding, however, wasn't exactly what I was talking about. I used that more as an example of how there can be more influence (and exposure) when you create ways in which others can share your brand message for you rather than relying on doing it yourself. Your customers and employees are a great place to start.

Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on December 24, 2015 at 4:11pm

Paul, no disrespect, but as much as the marketing figures are appreciated, do you have any TANGIBLE ideas for dealers to co-brand? After all, Star Wars the Force Awakens is the biggest blockbuster in history, and so was a New Hope in '77 - just on pre-hype. A few auto brands may have a rock star on deck that they can get creative with branding (Acura NSX, BMW I8, every Aston in a Bond film), but how do you propose to create hype around the next Chevy Spark or Kia Reo?

Not even the manufacturers can come close to what Disney did with Star Wars, and honestly most other movies can't, either. On the other hand, certain lifestyle brands can - and should - look for co-branding in the community. MINI, Fiat, Porsche all have a natural social media draw, and I see few dealers leveraging that appeal, and the manufacturers seem a bit flatfooted helping the dealers, as well. 

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