By: Julia Greenberg
Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t coming to theaters until mid-December—but Disney isn’t waiting around to start cashing in.
The entertainment company revealed the upcoming film’s poster yesterday along with a few new teasers. At the same time, Disney said that fans would get an “exclusive new look” at the movie during ESPN’s Monday Night Football game, that is, tonight. After the new trailer rolls during the game, Disney promises that fans will be able to buy early tickets “for showings in theaters across the globe.” (Some tickets went on-sale early.)1
All of which shows us Disney’s well-oiled marketing machine hard at work.
“You’re going to see us release in a very, very careful way certain elements of the film as part of a very carefully designed marketing plan, again as we get much closer to the film,” Disney chief executive officer Bob Iger said in the company’s earnings call in May.
That “carefully designed marketing plan” is exactly what you’re seeing now. It’s one that’s calibrated to reveal just enough to get you excited, but not too much to spoil the surprise. It wants to encourage super fans to buy tickets immediately while also reminding casual movie-goers that it exists. It wants to reach new markets, like China, without oversaturating the Internet (and world) with too much Star Wars stuff. (Yes, there is such a thing.)
Disney is the master of promotion, marketing, storytelling—and this is its moment. Nothing is left up to chance. “Everything that we have done to date has been extremely deliberate,” Iger said. “And we have an extremely carefully constructed and deliberate plan going forward.”
That’s not necessarily news. “Everything from this title, and most films, is planned out far in advance,” says Arthur Chan, the executive vice president of digital marketing at the Palisades Media Group. “Especially with Star Wars and Disney, everything is well orchestrated.”
But marketing today doesn’t mean just airing trailers during primetime on TV. After all, it’s not 2005 (nor1977). Star Wars‘s promotion team has to find ways to reach boomers, millennials, and even kids where they are—which is exactly what they’re doing. They’re mixing more traditional marketing techniques like releasing a trailer during a Monday Night Football game on TV with new ones like unboxing merchandise in videos on YouTube.
“The strategy seems to encompass all forms of marketing from traditional to digital in order to hit all generations and channels where fans consume content,” says Dana Loberg, cofounder at MovieLaLa, a marketing platform and social network for movie fans.
The Force Awakens is also one of the few films—or franchises—that can capitalize so fully on the range of marketing techniques that exist today. It may not be the first film to sell tickets, for example, ahead of the theatrical release. Chan says that trend started years ago with the Harry Potter franchise. (Though “everyone knows this is going to break every record out there,” he says.)
But the Star Wars film is in a unique class of franchises, perhaps even one of its own, that can use a well-placed trailer—on broadcast TV no less—and ticket pre-sales to create chatter and build anticipation that become hype for its film. “All they do is release a poster and the Internet goes nuts,” Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com says. “When they put out a trailer, its pandemonium. They’re releasing toys from a movie no one’s even seen yet.”
Star Wars releases teasers, posters, trailers during off-hours, like yesterday (a Sunday) or Black Friday last year. All of this is deliberate, Chan assures me. It’s a powerful brand set to break film records—Star Wars does what it wants. “They can create an event,” he says. “The film doesn’t need influencers on Instagram or YouTube to help promote the film. It’s the other way around.”