Marketing Star Wars: 5 Secrets Indie Filmmakers Can Learn
Star Wars grapes? Seriously? I always thought that George Lucas and LucasFilm did an amazing job marketing the Star Wars franchise. Do any of you remember the Pepsi can collection from the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace?
But the publicity campaign I’ve seen for the latest installment of the saga, ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens‘, is just a master class in marketing. The Walt Disney Co. (the new owners of LucasFilm and the Star Wars Franchise) and LucasFilm is truly a super-heavyweight marketing marriage that’s envied by every other movie studio in town.
I always knew Disney had marketing muscle but what they have done with Star Wars is remarkable. There’s even Star Wars oranges, yes I couldn’t believe it either.
I have never seen a film achieve this kind of massive awareness before a release…ever. Not even the release of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 could top this. If you were around in 1989 you would understand that you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Batman logo.
You have to give Disney’s marketing team credit for arranging such a diverse group of marketing partnerships with companies like: Kraft, Duracell, Toys R Us, Campbell’s Soup, Walmart, Duck Tape, General Mills, Google, Fiat Chrysler, Target, Verizon, Lego, ESPN(which they own), Maker Studios, NBA, Gummy Vitamins, Kay Jewelers, Subway, Sphero, Playstation 4, Pottery Barn Kids, Covergirl, Nerf, American Tourister, EA Games, and the list goes on and on.
That’s not all. In addition Disney/LucasFilm will make an estimated $5 billion next year just from selling Star Wars merchandise licensed under Disney’s Consumer Products division.
Products including t-shirts, toy lightsabers, action figures, toasters, pajamas, bedsheets, shower curtains, socks, costumes, towels, lightsaber barbecue tongs, Jedi bathrobes, salt/pepper shakers, and the aforementioned Star Wars Oranges.
So what can the humble independent filmmaker learn for this juggernaut in marketing. I know we don’t have two hundred million dollars to promote our film projects but there are lessons to be learn from the mouse’s marketing plan for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
1. Drip Feed Marketing
Disney released a slue of movie posters online before they arrived in movie theaters, they released the official trailer online before it hit the cinemas and release a Japanese or”international” trailer to tease the audience with just a few more pieces of footage.
Disney also developed hundreds of hours of promotional videos, outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage, and documentary film to drip-feed to fans well before the actual film ever arrived in cinemas.
Unlike film marketing of yesteryear Disney has spent an unprecedented amount of marketing dollars in social media.
Related: The Power of Myth: Creating Mythos of Star Wars’
Whether it is Twitter, Facebook, encouraging shares of their video footage from YouTube, or releasing social media exclusives like the Twitter trailer, Disney is investing their marketing dollars where they will do the most good – on social media.
Many times independent filmmakers focus all their marketing budget and energy to the release of their film. This is a mistake. Times have changed and people do not consume media and movies like they used to.
The key is to generate excitement about your project. I’ll use a small low budget example of what I did on the release of my short film BROKEN (Watch it FREE on Amazon Prime), which sold over 5000 DVDs made over $90,000.
I went to where my audience was hang in out and started to “Drip feed” them content. I asked what they thought of my teaser posters, concept art, website design, and the all important trailer. This is a small example but I knew exactly who my audience was, indie filmmakers.
Instead of creating hype just about another DVD release from an independent filmmaker I created an event with this drip feed technique. Use social media and the internet to create the hype.
Lesson Learned: Don’t merely announce a premiere to your film or release. Drip out hints that something big is in the works so you can create interest before you make the actual announcement. Content that’s relevant to your film project, funny and sharable. The point is to milk more value out of it than just making a single announcement.
2. Create “Sticky Labels” to Your Promotions
Disney had the brilliant idea to create “Force Friday.” This is a day where they release Star Wars toys to the public. Don’t think they just came up with Force Friday by accident. I’m sure they spent weeks discussing it.
Lesson Learned: Come up with catchy labels, headlines and hashtags that embedded themselves in people’s brains. Make them easy to remember and give them something to hold on to. Use the power of the hashtag to not just create awareness for the release of a film but use it to create a movement. Make the content so amazing they have to share it.
3. Leak some inside information
Disney/LucasFilm “leaked” photos of a few of the new action figures for Star War: The Force Awakens that were going to be on sale. This wasn’t merely saying something like “Big sale next Friday!” They were tapping into human psychology when you give someone a mental picture of a future event.
Can you remember seeing a photo or video of something you wanted to have, like a special edition blu-ray or a new video game? In your mind you start to see yourself watching that blu-ray or playing that game.
Lesson Learned: When I was going to release BROKEN (Watch it FREE on Amazon Prime) on DVD I posted a ton of stuff months before the release. Great, sharable content highlighting the Guerrilla Film School I would be selling with the film. Sales went through the roof on day one. Build that anticipation.
4. Make people curious to learn more.
Did you see the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Comic-Con reel in July 2015? It was a masterful video. It revealed nothing but gave everyone watching the feeling of what the film was going to be like.
You don’t have to reveal large plot points in the trailer or marketing materials (i.e: Terminator Genesys which ruined the film for everyone and died in the US Box Office).
Instead JJ and company showed the process behind the making of the movie — emphasizing the real sets and practical effects, and de-emphasizing the CGI effects which so many fans hated about the now infamous prequels.
The Comic-Con preview video reassured Star Wars fans that ‘The Force Awakens’ was in safe hands while getting everyone excited about the release.
Lesson Learned: So that’s nice but how can I apply this to my short film or small indie film? Well as I did with my release of BROKEN I built anticipation in my audience, an audience I identified and studied before the release, then created want and even need in the market place for my product aka ‘my film.’
You don’t have to reveal all the secrets of your new film; instead, explain how it’s different and show the care and detail that went into its creation.
5. Get your cast, crew & fans to be your biggest evangelists.
Everyone who worked on the new Star Wars film were just as excited as the fans. The Instagram videos released by stars John Boyega and Daisy Reily of themselves watching the movie trailer for the first time went viral.
It showed they were just fans and super excited about the film coming out. John Boyega literally jumped over the couch in excitement.
Lesson Learned: In the same way, your cast and crew should show their excitement for the new film project. It’s about creating an event. Two recent indie films Kung Fury and Turbo Kid did just this. They leveraged their online community, social media and audience to be their biggest evangelists. If they could do it so can you.
Learning from Disney/LucasFilm
LucasFilm/Disney has cracked the digital marketing code and created a buzz around the new Star Wars film that, I’d argue, hasn’t been seen in the history of modern cinematic marketing.
The drip feeding of fans, attention to social media, and the marketing blitz of product licensing is a master class in cinematic/IP (Intellectual Property) marketing.
They have ensured that all of this hype was not just for the premiere but to also begin a profitable drive in everything from movie ticket sales to licensed merchandise, t-shirts, toy sales and digital downloads well before and after John Williams’ score blasts in cinemas around the world.