Star Wars: The Force (and the Advertising) Awakens

The long awaited “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hits theaters on December 18, 2015. Advance ticket sales have surpassed $50 million and the debut weekend is expected to gross between $170 and $220 million domestically, according to the Huffington Post. And expectations for merchandise sales related to the movie are even higher, with industry analysts predicting revenues for just the first year could reach $3-5 billion.

With Star Wars set to be such big business, Kantar Media took a look at advertising done by companies associating themselves with the Star Wars brand to see who’s winning the intergalactic battle for consumer attention. The top spenders fall into two groups:  advertisers that signed on with Lucasfilm as marketing partners and retailers selling Stars Wars merchandise.

Cyber Monday: The real force to be reckoned with

While the movie doesn’t release until December 18th, advertisers have been capitalizing on the Star Wars hype since the summer.  We observed ads promoting Star Wars related merchandise or using Star Wars messaging (excluding any ads for the movie itself) starting as far back as early August, with a noticeable bump occurring near  “Force Friday “on September 7 -  the much anticipated release of all the Star Wars toys, collectibles and gadgets. 

Star Wars ad spend then began to build with the onset of the holiday shopping season, and peaked during the week of Cyber Monday. With so many other sales events to promote leading up to Black Friday, Star Wars marketing may have gotten a bit crowded out, but marketing to its likely tech-savvy fans would seem to be a perfect fit for Cyber Monday.  

Star Wars Ad Spend

A truly universal advertising push

The companies promoting Star Wars are a more diverse crowd than the one you’ll find in the Mos Eisley Cantina – and they probably paid a steeper cover charge too.  An exclusive group of select marketers’ paid a sponsorship fee to Lucasfilms giving them rights to create ad campaigns, marketing programs and activations around the movie. On top of their sponsorship fees these marketers spent more than $56 million on advertising to promote themselves and Star Wars. As would be expected given Star Wars’ geeky audience, video game and electronics companies make up a number of the leading advertisers; but cosmetics maker Cover Girl actually grabbed the second spot, and food and automotive companies also make up part of the roster.

Looking at their ad messaging and creative, it is clear that these companies and Lucasfilm view Star Wars as a brand with universal appeal to a broad audience.  Covergirl created a Star Wars Limited Edition make up line, Verizon convinced us that their network would work in a Galaxy far far away and even automobiles, which given the movie’s landscape, seemed an unlikely sponsor, made great use of their agreement.  One Chrysler ad likening owning a new Chrysler with the first time one sees Star Wars – unforgettable.

Retailers carrying Star Wars merchandise also got in on the action in a big way.  Kohl’s, Walmart and Kay Jewelers all invested heavily in the Star Wars advertising, which (not coincidentally) was perfectly timed to the winter holiday shopping crush.  Kohl’s and Walmart both have a plethora of merchandise to promote between toys, apparel, grocery items, and games, although they used different timing – Walmart focused on a September push around Force Friday, while Kohl’s concentrated in the run-up to Black Friday.

Kay Jewelers would seem to be an unlikely advertiser for Star Wars, but ranked high on the list by using their entire ad budget to do television commercials in November and December, promoting a free StarWars charm with any purchase of $99.00 or more.  Presumably this tactic was designed to make jewelry shopping more fun for male shoppers.

It’s clear that Star Wars has reached every corner of the advertising galaxy. And while much of the ad spending will likely vanish by the time The Force Awakens leaves theaters, it won’t be for long... With plans for the next Star Wars to release December 16, 2016, one can guess that Star Wars advertising will continue into many advertiser’s 2016 budgets.

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