If you want some merchandise featuring something to do with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you’re in luck. In fact, if you want anything tangentially related to Star Wars, chances are you’re going to be able to find it.
Star Wars ice cream, Star Wars life-sized droids, Star Wars LEGO, Star Wars candy, Star Wars high heels and clothing, Star Wars makeup, Star Wars bathrobes, Star Wars luggage, even Star Wars oranges. Just a few days prior to the release of the long-awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Dec. 18, society is in an all-out Star Wars fever. The insanity, which has been ramping up for months, has culminated in this: the perfect storm of marketing, an almost untouchable strategy put forth by Disney.
Three other factors are at play as well — we can’t forget it’s been a decade since Revenge of the Sith, so there is a tangible thirst for a new, compelling Star Wars movie; it’s Christmas, arguably the busiest spending period of the entire year; and Star Wars doesn’t have a specific target age group. Young children, older folks and anyone in between could very well have an interest in the film.
So while some people may be complaining about the excess of Star Wars-related products, they’re also buying them as fast as they’re being put out on the shelves, essentially feeding the beast. The strategy is working, even if you’re put off by the Star Wars soap you saw at the store.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the market has been oversaturated with movie-related products. (After all, don’t forget — everything from bedsheets to light fixtures was available for Star Wars: A New Hope, as well. This is not new.) Disney is the king of marketing in the movie industry, and they’ve been putting out genius product placements, advertisements and strategies around their films since the mid-20th century. In the case of Star Wars, Disney purchased Lucasfilm, another movie giant, in 2012, and the resulting confluence is a match made in heaven, especially in terms of “selling” the movie merchandise.
“There’s a whole history of these mergers going on,” says David Soberman, Professor of Marketing at the Canadian National Chair of Strategic Marketing at The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “You have to ask, when you see a merger: are there complementary things these companies can share with each other? The thing with Lucasfilm is it owned Star Wars. That was its main thing. People love it, everyone knows about it. There can’t be anyone better-suited to merchandising of any kind — cups, games, robots, makeup, clothing, almost anything — than Disney. It’s the most experienced company in terms of licensing brands and making money from it. Putting Disney and Lucasfilm together created a huge amount of value.”
When Disney brought Lucasfilm and Star Wars under its gigantic umbrella (and similarly Marvel Comics, another plum), the company knew it had an easy sell on its hands, but it had to approach it carefully and not ruin the formula. Star Wars films, released as trilogies, are separated by a few years. This in itself is a genius marketing plan because it keeps audiences invested and on the hook, and there have been many attempts to replicate that success, as witnessed by young-adult trilogies like The Hunger Games. None have succeeded on Star Wars‘ level because, frankly, they’re just not Star Wars. The appeal of Star Wars applies to both genders, almost all ages, and provokes a nostalgia that other films cannot match.
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“You always have these people who’ll say, ‘Oh, this is just marketing, Disney is just doing this to make money,’ and people will be negative about it and some reporters will take that point-of-view,” said Soberman. “But the bottom line is: what is Disney doing? People who hold shares in Disney want the people who run Disney to maximize the value of the assets they have, which is Star Wars. I can’t think of a better way to do this. The big thing about this movie is the merchandise. It’s probably equally, or more important, than the amount of money they can make from showing the movie.
And we shouldn’t understate this: some of the products they’ve developed are actually pretty neat. It’s not junk. These are cool things that people would like to have,” he continued. “Down in Boston, it was probably late October, and this guy I know already had a BB-8 droid. It was unbelievable. The movie was two months away and this man already had one in his office. We’re talking a 60-year-old man! We’re not focusing on just kids anymore, this is everybody.”
Oversaturation can’t hurt the brand, asserts Soberman — even if the fruit at your local grocery store has Yoda on it.
“The saturation only becomes a factor when the movies start coming out way too much or too frequently, or if the movie is a complete flop,” he said. “But on the whole, their timing could not be better. They went up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, and the ball came, they hit it in the sweet spot and won the game. The timing, the release, people’s interest, there’s basically no other competition. It’s Christmas. It’s perfect.”
So the lesson here is: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This is arguably the biggest movie release of a generation, so enjoy the ride.