Harnessing the Force: marketing lessons from ‘Star Wars’


As a Star Wars fan, I’ve been diligently preparing for the latest film installment of the franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by catching up on the previous six movies. I’ve also already purchased my ticket for the film’s opening on December 18.

But all of this has caused me to wonder, with around 600 movies released every year in Hollywood, why is there so much excitement around this one movie release?

Great marketing definitely plays a part in this. That said, here are my thoughts on why Star Wars’ marketing strategy is so successful, and what we as marketers can take away from it.

1. Making emotional connections

Simply defined, the film’s plot can be summed up as the light side versus the dark side. The character development for protagonists – like Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi – and antagonists – like the Sith Lords and Darth Vader – culminates into a classic struggle between good and evil.

This is perfectly encapsulated by this teaser trailer released for the movie last November. Since its release a little over a year ago, it has garnered more than 21 million views on YouTube.

While one could say that this sort of conflict defines the core of any quality story, the innovative and creative unfolding of the Star Wars saga is what holds the attention of audiences. Though creatures of fantasy, fans can identify with characters because their emotional journeys align with fundamental humanistic truths everyone can relate to. The ability to evoke powerful emotions via dynamic storytelling has kept the franchise relevant for more than 30 years, with loyal fans spanning a diverse collection of demographics.


Likewise, for a brand to maintain relevance with consumers, it is important that they establish strong emotional connections with their target audience. Brands like Apple, Nike, Amazon, and BMW have spent years building this type of connection, which serves as a source of differential and long-term competitive advantage.

Think Apple’s 1000 Songs in Your Pocket or Nike’s Just Do It campaigns – this messaging goes beyond the products themselves. Rather, they offer the emotional benefit of, in Apple’s case, being cool, or achieving athletic excellence with Nike. Thus, both brands have successfully held the attention of consumers for years, without having to stray far from core themes and messaging objectives.


2. Earning loyalty through continuity

Repetition is important to learning – this was a message that we’ve heard often as children (especially before our exams). As brand managers, we love to create campaigns, however we forget that every time a new campaign hits the market, our target audience forgets the previous one.

In the Star Wars series, the central cast of characters has remained consistent (R2-D2, Luke, Princess Leia, Darth Vader) and closely linked to each other throughout the series’ evolution. This continuity within the franchise has also lent to building a loyal fan following.

A long time ago in a Halloween far, far away….

A photo posted by Neil Patrick Harris (@nph) on

A brand that has consistently demonstrated continuity is The Government Employees Insurance Company – also known as Geico. While the brand mascots may vary throughout the years (the cavemen, the English gecko, Maxwell the pig), every campaign has been anchored around the simple tagline, “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance,” making it immediately identifiable for consumers.


3. Collaborating to create content

Brands are often afraid of losing control of their brand messaging, but in today’s social media-driven world, control is an illusion. Instead of resisting control, brands should find a way to appropriately partner with consumers.

For example, May 4 has been christened Star Wars Day, as the infamous line from the film, “May the Force be with you,” sounds similar to, “May the fourth be with you.”


Lucasfilm didn’t invent this idea, but it has since embraced it.

In addition to setting up a dedicated May 4 page on the Star Wars website and tweeting and retweeting user-generated content (UGC) around the hashtags #May4 #StarWarsDay and #MayTheFourthBeWithYou, the marketing team at Lucasfilm employed social media correspondent Andi Gutierrez to blog about it.

On May 8 of this year, Gutierrez recapped the best UGC content for the May 4 theme writing, “Star Wars Day wouldn’t exist [without] the creativity and passion of the fandom, so thank you all for making this the biggest yet! The Force will be with you, always.”

Here is some of the UGC from this year’s Star Wars Day:

4. Using brand partnerships

Leading up to the release of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm partnered with a number of brands for cross-promotion including Subway, Google, and All Nippon Airways.

These sorts of partnerships have helped to create excitement and raise awareness about the franchise to a level that would be impossible for a single brand to create. It also serves as great promotion for the respective partners.

For example, Google launched its #ChooseYourSide campaign, which encourages Gmail and Google+ sign-ups in conjunction with the latest Star Wars release. (Note: You cannot access it without a Gmail account.)


ANA has added a Star Wars Boeing to its fleet and is promoting it aggressively on social media.

Although this is not for everyone, it is worth exploring win-win partnership opportunities with non-competing brands to amplify campaigns.


The Star Wars brand can inspire marketers by exemplifying the value of marketing campaigns that effectively capitalize on human emotions, utilizes thematic continuity, encourages user participation, and explores out of the box partnerships.

In the words of Master Yoda: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”