Special Marketing Provides the Force behind New “Star Wars” Film

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published February 4, 2016

The new “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” overnight became the greatest grossing movie of all time, and it was hardly an accident or luck. It showcased the enormous marketing power of Walt Disney Co. and its creative strategies.

Wharton Prof. Jehoshua Eliashberg, in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, on Dec. 23, 2015, points out how cleverly Disney’s set the stage for the film’s unveiling:

“I thought Disney did a great job and this is a lesson that other industries, other companies can learn,” said Eliashberg. “They did a very good job in synergizing the different divisions” of their corporation.

He pointed out how Disney’s ownership of ABC contributed to the integrated marketing effort. One example was when the anchors at ABC came to ‘Good Morning America’ dressed up as Star Wars characters. “That’s a nice synergy between your TV and your studio divisions,” said Eliashberg.

He also congratulates Disney on its branding of the movie by reminding audiences of the previous six Star Wars movies and making them available to streaming services. “Another nice example of branding was to bring toys to the marketplace before the movie was actually available,” he added.

Eliashberg also noted Disney’s use of “peering trailers,” which sought to get people interested in the film without disclosing very much of the content nor storyline.  He calls these “teaser trailers.”

Adweek, in its Dec. 22, 2015, issue in an article entitled: “Disney’s Massive Marketing Push for Star Wars Was Relentless, but Also Masterful: Game-Changing Case Study Shattered Box Office Records” by Joe Saracino, elaborates on the marketing effort:

The marketing push was so big that it was virtually impossible not to realize a new Star Wars movie was on the way. The team at Disney has masterminded this campaign from the moment they announced the film, and have obviously been at work since they announced a deal to acquire Lucasfilm in 2012,” writes Saracino.

He added the video campaign was “relentless” both on TV and online. Disney started with 88 seconds of footage as a first teaser a year ago and then developed the longer second teaser, which dropped in April. The official trailer came out last April followed by a large number of TV spots. “It seemed like every few days there was a new version released with just a few seconds of exclusive never-before-seen footage. With each version, the anticipation and excitement only grew, and of course it left you wanting more, hoping for the next few seconds in a few days,” he writes.

Saracino points out that Disney even used events like Comic-Con and Star Wars Celebration to add fuel to the “frenzy.”  Disney also streamed live on YouTube bringing fans into the experience “as if they were family.”  The toys they launched were timed to be on shelves before the holiday shopping season. They called Black Friday “Force Friday.”

Forbes in its Dec. 28, 2015, “Hindsight” column by Alisha Grauso climbs on the bandwagon heaping praise for the film’s marketing effort:

“And, just as it did with Marvel, Disney used its deep pockets to go big,” she writes. “What Disney does exceptionally well is making audiences care about things they don’t even know they want, turning properties into not just movies, but cultural phenomenon. The Star Wars San Diego Comic-Con panel wasn’t just a panel; it was a celebration. J.J. Abrams (film director) surprised the entire audience by inviting them to a secret post-panel Star Wars symphony complete with dazzling fireworks display.”

She calls the release of the first trailer “a global event,” which Disney debuted  via live stream at its Star Wars Celebration convention. “For two minutes, millions of people all around the world stopped what they were doing to watch the first anticipated footage. Social media exploded, with thousands of tweets in dozens of different languages expressing joy, and everyone who was anyone wanted on board,” she writes.

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About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.