Mind the Gap

No escaping black hole of Star Wars branding

Every conceivable media platform has been inundated with promotions and click bait

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 December, 2015, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 December, 2015, 10:09pm

Star Wars: The Brand Awakens. Like the galactic birth of a new black hole, The Force Awakens premiered with a big bang of US$600 million and will likely swallow up every available cineplex screen on this side of the universe. But beyond the box office revenues and the orbit of 40 years of cultural significance is the inescapable ennui of its marketing grip.

There has been no escape from the global merchandising schemes like action figures and almost every imaginable household item. The Star Wars logo has been inflicted across almost everything that crosses our daily lives – Pepsi, Burger King, Hasbro and others have signed up to a product placement and tie-in programme so large that it might have covered the movie’s US$200 million production cost.

Every conceivable media platform has been inundated with Star Wars promotions and click bait. This could represent a historic media moment that signifies that if enough money is poured down the internet funnel, no one is beyond marketing reach.

The movie represents the pinnacle of Hollywood franchising and branding and cross promotion. Although superhero films have dominated the film industry for decades, The Force Awakens will heighten the primacy of global marketing and international branding, although I would have stopped at the R2D2 Coffee Mate creamers.

Toys and action figures were the central element and abiding vision of George Lucas’ business plan for Star Wars in 1976. And today, it’s probably the only movie franchise where fans pay to watch their action figures come to life. The movie is incidental to the merchandising business. It became so successful that Lucas stopped being a director and became a licensor.

Then, Disney paid Lucas US$4 billion in cash and stock for the entire franchise in 2012. But, for US$4 billion, Disney couldn’t afford to bomb with its first production and restrict Star Wars to one media platform. By Hollywood standards the story is what writers and studio executives describe as “uniquely familiar”. There’s nothing too innovative that might scare away the traditional fan base.

The script and its historical characters were deliberately integrated to educate the world’s second-largest movie audience – mainland Chinese moviegoers, about the legacy by including original stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. Promoting and unifying the themes of the early movies with new stories are an important part of this series’ branding and marketing.

When Lucas announced the sale to Disney, blogs groaned under the weight of fans’ sense of betrayal. “You’ve defiled my childhood,” one wailed as he went on to claim that Lucas promised not to make any more Star Wars movies. Lucas said his claim was only valid when he owned Star Wars.

Now that he doesn’t, what more business exploitation might Star War fans expect to see from Disney? There could be a television series. Or imagine a Star Wars-themed cruise ship. The next sequel film could even be coordinated with one of Disneyland’s amusement park rides: Star Wars: Revenge of Space Mountain.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and former international banker