May The 4th Be With You. If that reads like little more than gibberish, then you’ve probably been living in a galaxy far, far away for the past 41 years – such is the impact Star Wars has had on the planet since its formation in 1977. So much so, that May 4th, if you weren’t aware, now marks Star Wars Day each and ever year.
Thanks to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s immortal words (“may the force be with you”) May 4th has come to represent a day in which we can all celebrate the timeless franchise that has influenced our world in so many ways; a day for movie marathons, tributes, Star Wars-themed parties, social media takeovers, fancy dress, you name it.
But how did we get to this point?
Well, marketing can learn a hell of a lot from this success story. Put it simply, Star Wars changed the way films are made, marketed and experienced. Life before Star Wars pretty much saw a film made and that was that; life after Star Wars and the making of a film can be just the tip of the iceberg. Star Wars in 2018 is more than just an anthology of films, it’s an all-encompassing global phenomenon – one that has spawned eight movies and two spin-offs (with a bucket-load more in the pipeline) three made-for-TV movies, six animated series, over one hundred computer, video and board games, as well as toys, clothes, comic books, theme park attractions and everything else in between.
Each new Stars Wars release is now a near-religious, major mass-consumer experience. Take the release of The Force Awakens in 2015 – and with it the birth of ‘Force Friday’ – a celebration of the coming of not only the latest Star Wars instalment, but a whole new line of action figures and merchandise that came with it. Franchise owners Disney partnered with a range of major brands for the event, while a host of stores opened their doors to human beings of all ages desperate for a slice of the pie, throwing at them in-store events, discounts, competitions and whatever else they could come up with to squeeze out any more excitement. By the end of ‘Force Friday’, more than $1 billion had been raked in in merchandise sales.
For those engaging with the Star Wars brand that day, buying their new Kylo Ren toy was just as important to the whole picture as seeing the new film. Star Wars creator George Lucas knew he was creating a wonderful world of science fiction with the first film back in 1977, and that if people fell in love with his movies, they’d want to live in that world.
And live in that world today they do.
Since Lucas first opened up his galaxy to planet Earth, Star Wars has gone on to rack up combined box office revenues of over $8.8 billion, making it the second highest-grossing film series ever behind Marvel, while, perhaps more impressively, it holds the Guinness World Records title for the most successful film merchandising franchise ever – the total value of the franchise in 2015 was estimated at a mammoth $42 billion. And still the success goes on…
Key to any brand’s success is their ability to tell a story; one that resonates with their target audience and gets that audience talking about the product. Do that and often the rest will follow.
Upon the release of Rogue One in 2016, Disney chose not to spend their vast fortunes on TV advertisements like many mega-budget blockbusters do, but instead opted to let others do the hard work for them – by churning out content they were sure people would want to, or rather need, to share. A few top influencer companies were able to jump on the untameable bandwagon of hype as Disney sat back and let the world reach boiling point as anything and everything Star Wars-related either sold out or broke the internet. As their marketing department had foreseen, there was more power in others talking about their product than in talking about it themselves.
The fact that we’re even discussing Star Wars right now, on Star Wars Day – a day dreamt up, not by the Star Wars or Disney bigwigs, but on college campuses and in those fledgling days of social media – speaks volumes. That Star Wars marketing machine just keeps on turning.