It's been hard to avoid it online, on TV, on the radio or in the school yard... there's a new Star Wars film. But this buzz isn't an accident and there's a lesson to learn.
A word of warning before we begin: if you haven’t seen ‘The Force Awakens’ and intend to, stop reading now. I am probably going to ruin it for you. These aren’t the droids you are looking for.
If you are still with me, you’ve either already seen it or aren’t going to, either of which is fine for our purposes. I saw it recently, and enjoyed it. I wouldn’t describe myself as a Star Wars fan, but I’ve seen all of the films, appreciated the original three and hated the more recent trilogy. I have bought a range of merchandise over the last month for the man of the house who is a fan (more of his opinion later). So, I went to see ‘The Force Awakens’ with no particular axe to grind nor any desperate need for it to be brilliant.
I came away with the sense of a job well done, and professionally impressed with a brand reboot and a piece of content spectacularly well delivered. Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but I don’t think J.J. Abrams was given free reign as a director. I suspect he was given some very clear guidelines that looked something like:
- Fix the brand - deliver a decent film that draws heavily from the originals to erase memories of the awful prequels.
- Ensure that there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of the original story in the film so that all the people who loved the first ones get a nostalgia hit. So bring on a Death Star, desert and snow-scapes, original characters and an aerial fire fight involving flying through canyons.
- Appeal to new audience segments with two young characters and, critically, make the main one female to attract girls to the franchise.
- Create a piece of content that feeds in to all of the merchandising, rides at Disneyworld etc. ensuring that Disney make back the £4.1billion that it cost to buy Lucasfilm.
- Set the franchise up for the next five films, one per year, hence bringing massive profits.
As revealed in an article in this week’s Economist, Walt Disney created a content plan in 1957 that had films at the centre with their content feeding in to, and then drawing from, Disneyland, comics, music, TV and merchandising. Clearly, and as we knew, content marketing is nothing new.
Rebooting the brand, and creating a decent bit of content in terms of a good film, will ensure Disney makes back its money. It is expected that all of the £4.1billion (and more) will be recovered within 12 months through box office receipts and merchandising. That may well have happened even if the content had been poor. But what a good piece of content does ensure is that people will come back for the next film, and the next one, and will buy the products next time. Massive profits are the result. When content is poor, as in the woeful recent Minions movie, that future return is much lower. I doubt there will be another Minions movie, and if there is it won’t make as much money, or sell as much yellow tat.
So, what we see with ‘The Force Awakens’ is not new to marketers and communicators: protect your brand and produce decent content, and everything else is a lot easier. Not everyone agrees with me on the quality of the content though. The man of the house, a proper fan as I said, was disappointed. He wanted more; storyline progression, risk taking, something new. Perhaps that will come next time. He has, however, still got a load of Star Wars merchandising for Christmas. So Disney still wins, even if not with the hard core fans.
Julie Waddicor is senior campaigns officer at Staffordshire County Council.