Zachary Evans

What PR Can Learn from Star Wars

By: Zachary Evans | October 5, 2015 | 

What PR Can Learn from Star WarsBy Zachary Evans

Our world is filled with a constant stream of marketing and brand recognition efforts. If a company wants to make money, they need people to actually know they exist.

Some brands, however, are past this.

Everyone knows who they are.

Possibly the most notable example of this is the most recognizable entertainment franchise in the universe: Star Wars.

The popularity of Star Wars is so massive that it falls into a category all to itself. As demonstrated by Movoto, even when compared to the second largest sci-fi franchise, Star Trek, Star Wars is lightyears ahead.

Star Wars doesn’t need to market itself, really. There is no possible way for them to be any more recognizable than they already are.

This is especially true with the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens less than 100 days away. Recently, however, an unfortunate marketing misstep left a sour taste in some Star Wars fans’ mouths in the form of a blundered toy release.

By looking at the fallout from Force Friday, however, there are some great PR lessons to be learned.

That’s No Holiday, it’s a Toy Release

Going back to the original trilogy, toys and merchandise have been one of the largest aspects of the franchise. Leading up to the release of The Empire Strikes Back, fans were in a fervor to get their hands on a Boba Fett action figure (a character that had not yet even appeared on screen), and the market for Star Wars toys have stayed strong throughout the years.

With hype surrounding the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens building to almost impossible levels, Disney decided to do everything they possibly could to continue this tradition with the film’s toy line.

T do this, they knew they needed to do something really big.

How does one of the largest companies in the world do this for the most iconic franchise of all time? 

Invent a holiday, obviously!

Force Friday came on September 4th, and marked the first opportunity to buy toys from the upcoming film. This idea actually seemed to work, and people lined up for special midnight releases.

However, by the time these fans filed through checkout lines and returned home, perception of this event had changed. Stores were far from adequately stocked, and many were completely missing certain toys. At other stores, employees didn’t enforce buying limits.

Still getting caught up on how awful Force Friday was for so many people, and wondering who is to blame. Hasbro? Disney? #FarceFriday

— Dennis Scimeca (@DennisScimeca) September 7, 2015

The toy game sure is a rat race. I bet everything’s on eBay… #FarceFriday Was A Disaster For Many Star Wars Fans

— Joshua D. Scroggin (@jdscroggin) September 5, 2015

There was a great disturbance in Twitter, as if millions of voices cried out in terror, and then couldn’t be silenced about it.”

— Obi-Wan Kenobi, probably.

The number of Captain Phasma @starwars figures on eBay continues to disgust. So many #farcefriday stories I read involved missing that one.

— Dennis Scimeca (@DennisScimeca) September 10, 2015

In other cases, fans have complained about poor quality in some of the toys.

The lack of available products, combined with poor quality are classic signs of rushed overseas production. This oversight on the part of Disney should have been predictable. They know how long it takes for their toys to ship to stores, and they should have been able to predict the high demand, and therefore made sure that there would not be a shortage.

This is a great reminder to always use the data you have available to anticipate potential issues and take steps to prevent them.

The Nostalgia is Strong With This One

The failures of Force Friday, and the overall story of the Star Wars public perception serve as great lessons for the PR world.

For a long time, George Lucas seemed to be trying everything in his power to alienate loyal fans and consumers. From his strange, and almost universally hated additions and changes made to the original trilogy when they were re-released in the 90s, to the equally hated prequel trilogy, Lucas seems to have completely lost touch with the fans that have made Star Wars the cultural phenomenon that it is.

The marketing push around The Force Awakens and all of the new Star Wars films have largely been based on returning to what people once loved about the original trilogy.

With Lucas now out of the way creatively, Disney has the ability to redeem this franchise by going back to basics. Any sour taste left in the mouths of fans by Force Friday are so small in comparison the disappointment of the last 20 years of Lucas’ decisions that they seem to be quickly forgotten.

Good PR Buys You Breathing Room

This highlights why the marketing push for The Force Awakens has been largely successful, despite some missteps, as well as a very important lesson for every brand to pay attention to: give your fans (consumers) what they want, and learn from your past mistakes.

Force Friday may have been a disappointment to many fans, but it did not ruin their excitement for The Force Awakens or the other new Star Wars films.

This shows that if you consistently practice good PR and listen to consumers, you can buy yourself some breathing room when it comes to an eventual misstep.

image credit: Pixabay

About Zachary Evans

Zachary Evans is a freelance web writer and graduate of Boise State University with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. He spends his time writing, reading, playing music, and cheering on The Seattle Mariners.

  • I enjoyed this post! I have to say I am a Star Wars purist —— the first time I saw it (I guess #4 — the first one (?) I was around 11 years old. I hated it. But then I went back (maybe to accompany a friend or something) and something clicked and I. was. in. love. with. this. movie. I guess because I became crazy about it at around 11, I was past the “toys” age and my kids didn’t fall at a time when Star Wars toys would have been a thing. My daughter is about to start the Disney College Program, though, and her specialty is merchandising so oddly Star Wars toys may end up playing a big role for a family member yet!

  • This might be my favorite post of the year. Really interesting tie-in…and you can never go wrong discussing Star Wars.

  • ZacharyMEvans

    LauraPetrolino Thank you Laura! I really appreciate the nice words! I totally agree. Star Wars can really tie in to any part of life, so I think it should be used as lens for everything.

  • ZacharyMEvans

    biggreenpen I was 7 years old when IV was rereleased in theaters and I distinctly remember going to all 3 with my family. We had VHS copies recorded from TV that I had watched before that, but having a chance to see it in theaters was really special. I recently found one of the Star Wars toys I played with as a kid (an A-Wing pilot to be precise). That’s really awesome that your daughter is in that program! It would be pretty amazing to work in merchandising for any part of Disney (they seem to have merchandising down better than anyone), but Star Wars would be a true honor, in my opinion. 

    Thank you for your kind words about my article!

  • As a communications expert, and a Star Wars fan I have to respectfully take issue with this article.

    The special editions – while containing changes that true fans cringe at – were a welcome return of the franchise, in a time when VHS was all we had.  The prequels sadly couldn’t match with 20 years of anticipation, but a film doesn’t gross over $200 million without repeat visits.  tPM did $470M, AotC did $310M and RotS did $380M (and that’s just domestic box office gross).  It may be hip to diss them afterwards, but at the time they were Star Wars on the big screen and we were all loving it.  

    While I did not partake in Force Friday myself … beyond my childhood, the toys and collectibles were not particularly my interest … I know a great many fan who did and walked away happy.  They got their BB-8.  They landed their Captain Phasma figure.  This is the franchise that gave out a piece of cardboard as a toy, if you’ll remember.  Back in ’77 they weren’t going to have the toys in time for Christmas.  So you bought a package with pictures of what the toys would look like, send in a certificate and they’d mail you the figures when they were ready in Feb or March.  So a few random tweets that shelves had sold out is hardly the end of the world.

    Here are the three lessons communicators actually should walk away from Star Wars with…

    FIRST: Awareness is never 100%.  As pervasive as the Star Wars franchise is, there are still people who have never watched it.  They assumed it was something for other people, or maybe sci-fi just wasn’t their thing.  Star Wars’ success hasn’t been based on everyone watching it but a large audience that watches it again and again and again.  Which brings us to 

    SECOND: the success of the franchise rests with the fans.  Lucasfilms has always been respectful of letting fans build out and work with the franchise.  While Paramount was sending out cease and desist letters to Star Trek fan websites, Lucas was encouraging fan films like Troops, and even made it part and parcel of the annual Star Wars celebrations to feature the best of the amateur works.  While most franchises now understand and have come around to allowing fans room enough to creatively explore and play in the universe you’ve created, Star Wars has understood that since the first film.

    THIRD and finally…. tell a damn good story.  Star Wars works at its best when it is playing off of the Joseph Campbell monomyth.  Watch the trailers for the upcoming film again and see how they are laying down the hooks for the next spate of stories to come out.   “The force is strong in my family.  My father had it.  I had it.  My sister has it.  You have that power”  …it is so clearly a passing of the baton.  An opening the door to a whole new world of adventure.  THIS is what is going to have the fans walking out the door of the theatre and right over to the boxoffice to purchase another ticket to the very next showing.  This is what will have them scribbling out fan art.  Writing fan fic.  And ultimately purchasing novels, toys, video games, DVDs and CDs of the soundtrack.  To keep that story going.  To refuse to land on the last page by asking again and again, “and then what?”

  • bobledrew

    Perhaps my cynicism is getting more intense as I age, but… the lesson I’d take from Star Wars is that you can turn people off by oversaturating with your marketing. I have heard so very, very much about SW, and I listen to CBC Radio when I listen to radio, and I only get over-the-air TV channels. 

    Frankly, the saturation of Star Wars and the undoubted hundreds of millions on marketing and PR represents an overspend. The movie industry may find itself heading down the same path as the music industry, which is now finding that its attempts to create success by blanketing every possible medium and venue with marketing stuff is not working anymore. IT’s a race to the bottom, where reduced effectiveness is followed up with increased frequency, which leads to further reduced effectivness, which…