How Disney Revved Up the Star Wars Marketing Engine

Co-authored by Jason Mollica.

Do you have kids? Are they pining for new Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys? The new merchandise initiative known as “The Force Friday” brought a brilliant ignition point to what had already been a smoldering word of mouth campaign for the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie this winter.

Until the Force Friday brought Star Wars joy or envy to every child across America, buzz had largely been fueled by trailers, social media posts across diverse networks, and the release of the previous six movies. Now a brand new and perhaps the most powerful group of word of mouth agents have been unleashed, kids under the age of 12.

Youth success with Generation Z could create an unconquerable tidal wave for Disney’s Star Wars franchise. Heretofore, Star Wars had been a smash hit with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, the generations fortunate to have been adults and kids during the original trilogy (1977-1983). Millennials are also familiar with Star Wars, but through the less successful and critically challenged prequels (1999-2005).

Overcoming the Prequels

Star Wars Site

Let’s be fair. Great excitement existed for the new franchise before the Force Friday– in large part because of Disney’s stewardship and the hiring of J.J. Abrams to direct the first movie. Social media buzz was high, and a virtual cheer was felt across the Internet when Harrison Ford made his appearance in the second trailer for The Force Awakens.

But doubt remained. We have been let down before by the prequels. Even though the third movie in that ill-received (though lucrative) trilogy — Revenge of the Sith — was arguably close to the same quality as the original trilogy, the damage had been done.

In fact, when the third trilogy was announced the great excitement was largely inspired by George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney. Successes with both Marvel Studios and Pixar have shown Disney is good steward to other creative visions. Adding J.J. Abrams as director was the coup de grace. Abrams had already successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise.

Star Wars could be reborn. Indeed, a new hope (pun intended) was felt amongst prior fans, and even millennials who had been burned with their generation’s installment. But doubt remained and soft debates occurred at cafeterias and bars across America.

It doesn’t matter now. Kids across America are demanding the toys. They want to see the old movies. They want comic books and novels. They will want to see the new movie, too. Parents and grandparents are obliging them, and in doing so are reintroducing themselves to the Star Wars Universe.

At this point, the only thing that could ruin the tsunami of Star Wars hype is a bad movie.

The Great Tease

Soleil Skywalker

The lack of knowledge about The Force Awakens and its storyline — a hallmark of J.J. Abrams productions — is fueling speculation. Part of Disney’s strategy to create word of mouth is the great tease. Every new trailer and now the new toys reveals a character or a new look to a familiar subject (including geriatric heroes).

People go crazy about what each new wrinkle means. Heck, even reporters are documenting changes that have occurred in Han Solo’s trusty vessel, the Millenium Falcon.

You have to give Disney credit, they have done a masterful job of inspiring conversations with the general public. Each moment creates incredible amounts of word of mouth marketing for the film, and all of its secondary and ancillary merchandise.

The merchandising move is one straight out of the Lucasfilm bag of tricks. Before selling to Disney, Lucasfilms had garnered $20 billion in sales of official Star Wars merchandise with the company getting a cut of every transaction.

The overall excitement may even exceed the hype that preceded the first prequel, the Phantom Menace, in 1999. People waited in line for day, literally camping out, just to be the first to see the new movie. Unfortunately for them, the faux reggae alien Jar Jar Binks and wooden acting from the rest of the cast foiled the party.

Unlike the prequels, Disney probably won’t get a second, third or fourth chance to get the rebooted Star Wars narrative right. The product had better meet the hype or taxed fans who have been willing to forgive may simply move on.

An Omnipresent Transmedia Experience

Have you visited the graphic novel section of Barnes & Noble recently? If you do, you’ll find Marvel’s new Star Wars series tucked into the stacks right before Superman. It’s just part of the onslaught of toys, costumes, movies and books that you’ll find at the super store.

It’s hard not to go anywhere and not see or hear about Star Wars today. Merchandise, media, Star Wars events at baseball stadiums, and friends alike are abuzz with Star Wars or are trying to push it. Disney’s fans and marketing partners are doing as more to promote the movie than the studio itself.

This combination of word of mouth, partner advertising, and studio PR and social media is amazing. Disney has achieved marketing nirvana, a perfect storm of pre-release hype. Here is a list of several marketing initiative that we have noticed. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section:

  • Trailers (duh).
  • Comic-con appearances by the original series heroes
  • Media coverage.
  • Toys everywhere!
  • Omnipresent social media activation with trivia and content across most major social networks.
  • Kids and adult T-shirts.
  • Halloween costumes.
  • Guerilla marketing in NYC with Stormtrooper mobiles
  • Limited edition Star Wars cereal products in supermarkets
  • TV shows.
  • MLB team-sponsored Star Wars events.

As communicators, we dream of having big budgets to execute massive campaigns. Even with such a budget, we could only dream of the successes that Disney is enjoying this year with Star Wars. Our hats our off to their marketing team.

What do you think about all of the Force Awakens hype?

Going Beyond Transactions to Learn More

Sales, marketing, branding and ROI drive much of today’s conversation about how to use social, content marketing and interactive. Yet it’s a missed opportunity when companies and nonprofits don’t use their sites to learn more about their stakeholders.

Surveying customers, harnessing data, and determining topical interests can help organizations better understand their customers, serve them with better information, and in turn, increase many desired marketing key performance indicators. Lower cost technologies make learning easier today, whether that’s using interstitial survey technologies, CRM tracking tools, or analytics.

I talked recently with Everyday Health VP of Market Research Carolina Petrini about how they are using Crowd Science to learn more about their stakeholders. They wanted to go beyond knowing that their readers were predominantly women to:
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How Razoo Became a Mobile Platform

Mobile

The following is a narrative version of my 15 minute speech at the 2012 Innogive Conference today.

Last Spring those of us at Razoo began analyzing mobile web solutions. There was a big debate because traffic was in the low single digits, but partly as a result of reading Chuck Martin’s Third Screen, we decided to offer a web based mobile version of the web site and donation platform, and an iPhone app for fundraisers.

The Third Screen showed that almost every company or organization that goes mobile sees a surge in mobile traffic usually above 10%. This 10% rule was illustrated over and over again with case studies. We launched mobile at the end of 3Q, 2011, and just as the book indicated, the results have been amazing:
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Give to the Max Day Research: The Ultimate Case Study

For Love of Children Check Presentation
For Love of Children’s Andrea Messina and Tim Payne, a Give to the Max Day grand award winner and case study

Today, the Case Foundation in conjunction with the Razoo Foundation issued the research report, “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities: A case study of Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington.” I authored the report, and also served as the general manager for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, which launched last November.

These contests are multichannel marketing and social media driven adventures that can be extremely exciting! Contests produce a ton of data, including hard numbers such as the number of donations, highest and lowest donation, etc. that can make the biggest stat geek and ROI analysts thrilled. They also produce fantastic survey data, case studies and media reports. The end result is an incredible jambalaya of data.

G2MDayataGlance

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How Reddit Rocked Stephen Colbert’s World

Colbert Reddit

One might look at the Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers study (sponsored by PayPal for Nonprofits) and draw the conclusion that all celebrity fundraisers are doomed to fail. But though it is true that many celebrity tweets falls short, the truth is they fail because the celebrity is not very well engaged with his/her community, unauthentic about the cause and/or unwilling to invest an effort.

We included one case study in the effort which shows that a big celebrity can rock it, the Stephen Colbert-Reddit case study. Colbert demonstrates that big celebrities can rock it if they are engaged, authentic and willing to work. These should be the three qualifiers of any weblebrity/celebrity fundraiser.

Showing the networked celebrity/weblebrity effect in reverse, a community of Reddit users decided to rally for an educated America as a response to the Republican movement in 2010. The “Restoring Truthiness” campaign was centered on political comedian Stephen Colbert and to encourage Stephen Colbert and John Daily in their rally countering Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally. The fundraiser successfully galvanized Stephen Colbert Report/Daily Show, garnering Stephen Colbert’s direct attention.

The Reddit campaign was started on DonorsChoose.org in the middle of a Monday night in September, 2010. By mid-morning the community had raised $15,000 donations. By the end of the day the campaign had raised $100,000, and had actually caused DonorsChoose.org’s website servers to crash.

The campaign was immensely successful, and soon garnered the attention of Colbert, who sits on the DonorsChoose.org board. He acknowledged the effort on his show, and deferred any possible rallies until Jon Stewart announced his Rally to Restore Sanity.

But Colbert decided to become involved with the campaign because the Reddit community’s generosity was so awe inspiring. He thanked them personally. Then on his October 5 show he said, “Make your donation to show support of my march and to support America’s kids. And keep those donations coming folks, because for every $100,000, I undo another button.”

Once Colbert engaged, the Reddit fundraiser went much further than it could have possibly beforehand. It was the perfect storm of an involved celebrity who had authentic passion for a cause and the impassioned Reddit community. The combination was fire.

After his first response there was another spike in donations. The rally was scheduled for late October in Washington. And Colbert made himself accessible, taking photos, mentioning it on his show, and answered 11 questions from the Reddit community on their site.

The final totals were astounding. When the study was drafted, 11,461 people had donated $613,580 and 291,985 students were reached by the time this report was written. The Reddit inspired Stephen Colbert campaign caught lightening in a bottle.

PayPal Research Shows Strength of Community Trumps Popularity

Paddyobrien

We live in strange times in which an online following is considered the mark of success. This era of weblebrity seems caustic at times with companies, nonprofits and individuals chasing personal brands for their time. Yet, as we dig deeper we see that real influence online does not necessarily tether itself to the most well known, rather the most engaged. Some research released today, The Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers, conducted on case studies within the PayPal network validates this truth.

The paper, my final as a Zoetican and co-authored with Henry T. Dunbar, concludes that online celebrity fundraising efforts are hit and miss. Further some of the biggest names get outpaced by lesser known web-based personalities or weblebrities who activate deep ties to their communities.

The research shows over and over again that the hyper-engaged online personality with an authentic story is the one to succeed. Here are some examples:

  • A campaign on Facebook’s Causes to raise money for a new children’s hospital. In it, a 9-year-old cancer patient with virtually no online presence generated more donations than any other individual, including television star Ashton Kutcher.
  • A DonorsChoose.org fundraising competition among bloggers —- including TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington and All Things D’s Kara Swisher —- was dominated by a blogger offering to parade around in a tomato suit.
  • The launch competition of Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees social giving website: Despite recruiting more than 60 celebrities to create “charity badges” on the site —- including Nicole Kidman and Ashley Judd -— the top fundraiser was a woman who blogs about scrapbooking and has an autistic son.
  • The PayPal-sponsored Regift the Fruitcake campaign on Facebook was won by Operation Smile with the help of Filipina singer Charice and her engaged fans. Other more notable celebrities participated, but didn’t deliver Charice’s impact.
  • TwitChange, which hosts charity auctions where fans buy mentions, follows, and retweets from celebrities on Twitter. Through three auctions in 2010, two of the celebrities drawing the most attention and highest bids have been actor Zachary Levi (of TV’s Chuck) and celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, beating stars such as country singer LeAnn Rimes and celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton.

As practitioners and communicators, we owe it to ourselves and our clients to dig deeper, and learn the underpinnings of the online social web. Real influence is more than popularity, and this paper goes a great distance to highlighting the important components of authenticity, real strong community engagement, and a willingness to actively work with a community to affect change.

The whole paper is online, and embedded below. Over the next few weeks, expect to see several full case studies outlining the principles of the paper published here. Special thanks to PayPal’s Clam Lorenz, Network for Good’s Katya Andresen, DonorsChoose.org’s Anna Doherty, Operation Smile’s Kristi Kastrounis, and TwitChange’s Shaun King, all of whom provided the outstanding content and insights that made this paper possible.

Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers