What’s more powerful than Luke Skywalker, Yoda and Darth Vader combined?
The marketing “Force” at Disney Inc.
But could the company’s promotional blitz behind the seventh film in the “Star Wars” saga end up hurting, not helping, the franchise?
There’s a reason Disney shelled out $4 billion to buy the “Star Wars” property, which officially resumes Dec. 18 with “The Force Awakens.” Brands rule today, and few brands are as beloved as what George Lucas created with the 1977 smash “Star Wars.”
While the new film may be months away, we’ve been bludgeoned already by the Disney marketing machine. The film’s cast dropped by this summer’s Comic-Con event in San Diego. LEGO, which has deep ties to the franchise, is retelling the saga’s story in a series of animated shows. We’ve seen a micro-brief snippet from the film appear last week via Instagram.
Interest in the new film simply couldn’t be higher. Is too much buzz possibly a bad thing?
Rebecca Brooks, a founder of Alter Agents Market Research research in Los Angeles, said Disney’s approach will likely succeed. Just consider how much marketing muscle went into “Minions,” the spin-off from the “Despicable Me” movies earlier this summer.
“You couldn’t get away from the Minions,” said Brooks, a market researcher for nearly 20 years who has worked with Google, eBay, Hyundai and Yahoo.
That might have annoyed adults who don’t have kids, but it scored a bulls-eye with the target demo – parents and their children.
Those fans are willing to absorb all of that marketing, all of that promotion.
The result? “Minions” is now the third highest grossing animated film of all time behind “Frozen” and “Toy Story 3.”
The “Star Wars” audience is much larger, she said, and more than eager to receive the marketing updates. Anything Disney trots out on the franchise’s behalf is mirrored by the rabid fan base thanks to social media and other modern outlets. Fans are still smarting over the lackluster prequels to the original “Star Wars” trilogy, and they’re hopeful to see the story continue in a more uplifting fashion.
“Those fans are willing to absorb all of that marketing, all of that promotion,” she says.
Of course, there is one undeniable risk behind the promotional blitz. What if “The Force Awakens” turns out to be a mediocre sci-fi film? Or worse? Brooks recalled the hype that greeted tech innovations like Zune, Google Glass and the Apple Watch.
“In all of these cases, the buying public had a strong negative reaction to the products overnight in large part due to the brands’ inability to live up to expectations,” she said. “If the movie is no good, Disney faces a tremendous backlash.”
That would also include softer than expected numbers at the upcoming “Star Wars” theme parks, part of Disney’s big picture to build on franchise fever.
Some might argue Disney could shut down the marketing spigot overnight and “The Force Awakens” would shatter box office records all the same. Marketing doesn’t quite work that way in 2015, Brooks said.
“Before, the audience was passive. Now, they’re actively engaged. They are hunting for information, sharing opinions,” she said. “They can make or break a brand overnight.”
If a company doesn’t push out its messaging properly, the public will answer that silence with its own voice. And that could be intensely negative.
Disney shrewdly reunited the actors from the original trilogy … to fuse nostalgia with 21st century storytelling.
“The more they’re pushing the conversation, the less we’ll listen to someone else,” she said. “That media space will be filled by your customers.”
Wheeler Winston Dixon, a film studies professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, said Disney arranged all the right elements before orchestrating what should be a victorious marketing push. Disney shrewdly reunited the key actors from the original trilogy — Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford — to fuse nostalgia with 21st century storytelling, Dixon said.
The company also stepped cautiously during the early stages of the marketing rollout.
“Disney has been very careful about stills and video leaking out from the set,” Dixon said. “The first image released was simply a black-and-white shot of the cast sitting around doing a script read.”
The Force, it appears, has just begun to awaken.
“Just like the Bond films, there will be an annual audience waiting for each new (‘Star Wars) installment,” he said.