Major brands tap into the marketing machine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Andrew Baulcomb, Advancement Officer | Hamilton, ON | December 17, 2015


Iron your brown vest, polish your black helmet and put fresh batteries in your lightsaber. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the biggest film of the holiday season, and continues to delight and mystify viewers of all ages.

Much of the hype in Canada has been fueled by clever, humorous, cross-promotional marketing campaigns that have captured the hearts and minds of fans. Just before the film’s premiere in December, Mandeep Malik, assistant professor at the DeGroote School of Business and an expert in applied marketing and sales management, offered his take on some of the unique ad campaigns that pushed the film, including a key partnership between Disney and Bell Canada:

Bell Canada has launched a major Star Wars-themed ad campaign to coincide with the film’s blockbuster release this weekend. From a marketing perspective, who benefits more from this partnership – Bell or the filmmakers?

This is about shared wins in geographically-defined markets and segments. Globally, Star Wars has signed agreements with brands such as Duracell, Subway, HP, Cover Girl, General Mills, etc. These market-specific agreements help multiply dollars spent and earn attention for both brands. At the face of it, you might say Bell is the real beneficiary. But the makers of Star Wars realize that Bell is a media giant in Canada, and the company is a worthy partner that can bring additional attention at an incremental cost. Marketing partnerships often allow gains that would be otherwise tough to achieve without significant spending. The return on investment (ROI) in such cases is often much better. Also, keep in mind that standing out among today’s media and digital overload is not easy, unless you plan such clever affiliations.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that Disney is “spending less on marketing” for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, thanks to the Bell Canada deal and similar international partnerships. Is this an increasing trend in Hollywood?

the force awakensMovie brands and everyday brand partnerships are not new. The easy example is McDonald’s and Disney. They have been at it for years, as have many auto and sports properties. Of course, there are many other examples that illustrate how brands that share the same goal work together to make each other better. Now we can see the Disney magic at work again, which has already delivered more than $50 million USD in sales a month before the movie opens. Will this be the biggest movie opening in history? I presume so. It’s important to keep in mind that marketing and brand managers are always looking at ingenious ways of getting the most mileage for every dollar spent. This is hard to achieve when products lack compelling or unique attributes for customers, and even the messages start sounding the same. This is when the medium becomes the message.

As part of the deal, Bell outlets as CTV and Space will be interviewing Star Wars actors and promoting the film for the next several weeks. Is this journalism, creative marketing, or some kind of grey area encompassing both?

It is a little bit of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” But the media needs to report on what is important to readers, viewers and listeners. So if Star Wars is trending, causing anticipation and building communities, then it’s a bandwagon everyone wants to get in on. Also, keep in mind, Star Wars spans generations. It’s a 38-year-old franchise with mass appeal, which brings back old memories, is associated with milestones and allows fans to live their dreams through these characters. It has a special meaning in the lives of many people that is beyond what most brands can offer. It unites generations and creates debate among grandparents, their kids and grandchildren. It’s a phenomenon unlike any other.

Do we feel more affinity for a brand or corporation when they attempt to engage with popular culture?

Brands that tell stories in which consumers can see themselves as characters always resonate more. This is not about the economic value proposition, but about the emotional value proposition – which may come from memories, hopes, dreams, wins, losses or relationships. Today, it is not enough to simply target consumers based on demographics, culture, gender, social norms, education or discretionary income. Brands have to find common threads that weave through and unite people  beyond the basics. These common interests are often more deeply meaningful, and engage or motivate the consumer differently.

If the film is a flop, can this strategy backfire? What are some of the risks involved in cross-promoting a film and a corporation?

Of course it can. These partnerships work like endorsements for each other, so if one brand gets invested in the other there is a co-dependence. You take a calculated risk when you create an association between brands. In today’s world, where feedback is propagated in seconds, the risks are magnified because it is so hard to predict how society will react. Of course, we cannot forget that Star Wars is now challenged to introduce a whole new generation to its existing cult-like following. This generation has grown up differently and has a new view of the world, and it might be the reason we are seeing a magnitude of difference in the way this movie is being promoted. This generation finds, shares and consumes information so differently.

malikmProfessor Malik teaches Applied Marketing and Sales Management at the undergraduate level, and Consultative Selling in the MBA Program. In addition he is working in partnership with senior industry representatives to introduce experiential learning programs that impact learning outcomes for all stakeholders. Some of the programs he manages include MARS Apprentice, Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec, Synergy Summer Program for High School Students, High School Business Heroes, Focus 2040 and Let’s Do Business.

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Contact Info

For media inquiries, please contact:

Andrew Baulcomb, Communications Officer
DeGroote School of Business
McMaster University
905-525-9140 ext. 24081

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