At the time of writing Star Wars The Force Awakens is a little under two weeks away from its opening night. This is hardly news to you.
It’s close to impossible to have missed any of the three teaser trailers, cinema trailer, international trailer and thirteen TV spots. Even if you somehow overlooked the audio-visual bombardment, you can’t have failed to see the breakfast cereal, paper plates, chocolate bars, toys, drinks, email themes, map avatars, billboards, posters and, of course, toys.
The marketing machine behind The Force Awakens is unprecedented. Even the much maligned Star Wars prequels were more circumspect. Which makes sense. These were Star Wars movies. There was absolutely no doubt they were going to break records. At its peak The Phantom Menace was the second highest grossing movie in history (beaten only by Jurassic Park).
So what has changed? Why the unparalleled blitz for The Force Awakens, and what does it mean for the Star Wars brand?
It of course starts with business. LucasFilm was purchased by Disney. Like Marvel before it, Star Wars has been road-mapped for the next decade and longer. In the next three years we’ll see as many Star Wars movies released in the cinema as we have in the last 40.*
And having spent 4.05 billion dollars of investors money, Disney understandably wants to see a reasonable return.
Sure, some of that will stem from cinema tickets, but most will come from DVD and digital sales, tourists flocking to Disney theme parks and attractions, and of course from books and toys and t-shirts and video games.
And to feed this monster, Disney isn’t content for Star Wars to simply be the pop culture icon it has been to date. It has to be more. Star Wars must be front and centre in the public consciousness.
But this leads to a bigger question. At what point does the proliferation of a brand dilute its perceived value? It’s one thing to be seen on TV, but when a brand is plastered over supermarkets, card shops and pound stores, surely this reduces its effectiveness?
In time, I fear it will. Despite the poor critical reception of each Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi, the franchise retains a special place in the hearts for many people – including me.
Sure, some of this can be chalked up to childhood nostalgia but there’s more to it than that. Something unquantifiable. Something special.
By printing the logo on anything, Star Wars’ new owners are essentially telling us that they don’t value what makes the brand what it is. Unique, bold and extraordinary.
Brands need to know their limitations. Say no, as often as they say yes.
After all, you want what you can’t have. Not what you can’t help but see.
Don’t get me wrong. At midnight on December 17th I’ll be sitting in the cinema waiting for the fanfare to sound and the familiar words to scroll over the star field. And I’ll be doing it the day after. And the day after that. And those are just the tickets I’ve pre-purchased.
But will I be doing it in five years? Can the brand survive the endless avalanche of movies, TV shows and related merchandise? Can it stay special?
Of course it can. It’s Star Wars.
* The important distinction here is ‘cinema release’ as it ignores two Star Wars Ewok movies, the animated Clone Wars movie (which I’ll admit had a very limited cinema run), the Holiday Special, the animated Droids TV show (and made-for-TV movie), the animated Ewoks TV show as well as recent releases of The Clone Wars (both waves) and Star Wars: Rebels.