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Will Star Wars: The Force Awakens change the way films are marketed in the future?

I was 6-years old when I saw Star Wars. It was the first movie I saw in a theater and I was an instant fan. The original changed movies to say the least and the latest version is changing movies again.

Since October 30, 2012, when Disney purchased Lucas films, I have been anticipating the opening weekend. In fact, on that day I gathered my wife and daughters in the kitchen and shared with them the good news — 5 Star Wars movies would be made beginning in 2015. They all looked at me and shared the obligatory smiles and walked away.

Now they understand.

They understand because the ‘slow leak’ of marketing that soon will end. As the film opening draws closer, we continue to be bombarded by the Disney marketing machine. Admittedly, I was a little concerned that Disney would overdo it in their marketing of this film, but I was wrong. They have masterfully built anticipation by slowly letting the world meet the characters and seeing how a film doesn’t require CGI to be a blockbuster.

As we close in on the opening, there are a few items I have enjoyed from a marketing perspective:

  • They listened — JJ Abrams spent time understanding the Star Wars universe and recruited a host of veteran Star Wars writers such as Lawrence Kasdan, to ensure the story was a relatable experience. Abrams said in an interview with io9 that he wanted to carry on the experience with the story development. “What did we want to feel in this film? What did we want the audience to experience and feel?” He added, “The absolute fundamental ‘What do we want the experience to feel like?’” He needed to make a strong story first, versus allowing lightsabers and space battles to take center stage.
  • They engaged — Google ‘Star Wars trailers’ or ‘Star Wars news’ and see the engagement aspects of their efforts. From celebrities to the casual fan, the impact of buzz continues to grow. Disney clearly knows how to build a fan base — albeit with Star Wars the fan base is probably more than what they may be used to — and they are engaging this decades-old fan base like a Jedi Master, bring them into the fold and slowly share the knowledge. Engagement has drawn in more of a following due to the manner in which the message has been distributed. This will be a great case study in building engagement as well as leading up to an event such as a product launch or company announcement.
  • They connected — The original movies built a connection through merchandising. How many of us had a huge collection of Stormtroopers? Hell, I have one of the newest First Order Stormtroopers in my office. (I know, I’m 44 and still a kid – that is why I love this industry.) This film may overdo it with its merchandising. In fact, I am getting tired of the tie-in (no pun) commercials leading up to the opening weekend, but the effort creates a ubiquitous connection to the movie — you just can’t get away from that iconic logo.

I believe the biggest impact that Star Wars has on the marketing of films is how the producers have slowly built anticipation. The silence of the actors and anyone involved has only stoked the coals and how this element is included in the marketing only adds to the excitement. Watch the Jimmy Kimmel segments and they are all tight-lipped. Even Carrie Fisher – who is dying to let the cat out of the bag – won’t say anything related to the story.

I purchased tickets for my family and my parents are coming to town to watch the film with us. December 18, 2015, at 6:40 pm I will be in the theater with a HUGE smile on my face. I know that the producers and marketing team could have done nothing and still sold tickets, but instead, they masterfully built anticipation without telling the whole story in a trailer.

Most of all, I am excited about learning more of this galaxy far, far away. May the Force Be With You!TM

~ Chris Martin