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

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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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