Disney Takes Over

2012 became a life-changing year for the Star Wars franchise, as George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd sold the entire franchise to Disney for $4.05 billion in cash and Disney’s stock (Lucas wanted a walk-in wardrobe of Disney Princess frocks, I reckon…). The taken over of the Star Wars franchise opened opportunity for future TV shows, merchandise and theme park attractions for Disney. They also announced six new films within both the sequel trilogy and the anthology films.

Before we begin, lets have a little doggy fix, with a new Volkswagen advert released in 2012 ‘The Bark Side’:

This advert was a hit for Volkswagen, drawing in 1.6 million views on YouTube in its first 24 hours!

Prior to the release of the first Star Wars film under the control of Disney, Marvel Comics released a series of remastered comics that were based on the original trilogy.

There was also an animated series, Star Wars Rebels, was released on Cartoon Network and is still ongoing today.

Walt Disney and Lucasfilm also worked together, producing a digital collection of the first two trilogies, remastered in high definition. This worked as a promotional tactic for the upcoming film with followed eight months later.


The first film released since the takeover of Disney is The Force Awakens, in 2015. This became the first of the sequel trilogy with two more coming.

There was never a doubt that The Force Awakens would be anything but hugely successful at the box office – it is, after all, a continuation of the most beloved, globally influential franchise in movie history.

Alisha Grauso, 2015: Forbes

The marketing was a difficult task, as opposed to the previous trilogies, there were a large number of new, unheard of characters, actors and actresses that weren’t necessarily known by the audiences of Star Wars. This limited the marketing that Disney could do, in comparison to what had been done before.

So how did they overcome this, through the use of marketing? There were three steps in which Disney took when marketing The Force Awakens: starting early, go big and create a relationship with the cast and their audiences.

Disney’s first bit of marketing came through a black and white picture, of the cast, sat around a table doing their first read-through. The captured the hearts of audiences, as they were seen enjoying themselves, laughing and getting on with one another. Disney effectively played on this as their marketing campaign primarily focused on the relationships and chemistry amongst the cast – seen through press events, public appearances and interviews.

Despite a focus on the young, new and upcoming members of Star Wars, Disney also played on the nostalgia within the cast, by including Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, the droids, etc thoroughly throughout the marketing campaigns. Doing so helped audiences feel a connection with the original trilogy to the current one.

However these features were seen through teaser posters or drawing to much attention, but only through the use of trailers.

So what did Disney do?

Comic-Con, in San Diego, is usually a huge celebration of Star Wars, but this year more than any. The event included separate, ‘mini’ events of which were surrounded by Star Wars, including a post-panel Star Wars symphony and a fireworks display.

During a Star Wars Celebration event the release of The Force Awakens trailer happened and to say it was huge is an understatement. Disney made the release a somewhat global event, live streaming it for the whole world to see – with millions of people watching at that very moment. Following this, social media went crazy, exactly what Disney wanted.

Other marketing strategies included themed events, including a Jimmy Kimmel Live! devoted to Star Wars.

The trailer was released as a television advert around the world, however from personal experience, I can’t remember seeing it all that much. It was also released in the cinema, but again, there were films where I expected to see it in the upcoming films section and didn’t.

Merchandise for The Force Awakens was huge and still is. Prior to the films release, on September the 4th 2015, an event called “Force Friday” occurred. This was a midnight opening where the unveiling of the new Star Wars toy collection were released to the public in shops such as: Target, The Disney Store and Toys ‘R’ Us. There have been a large amount of companies including Lego, Sphero, etc who have come together with Disney in order to create merchandise specific to the film. The merchandise has undoubtedly been huge.


What did The Force Awakens achieve?

  • It achieved the fastest film to cross the billion dollar threshold, achieving $1.09 billion in 12 days.
  • It was the biggest Christmas day box office in history: $49.3 million.
  • Achieving the biggest domestic opening weekend: £239 million. And second weekend: $149.2 million.
  • The Force Awakens also achieves the biggest worldwide opening at $529 million.

Comparing the success and the marketing campaigns of The Force Awakens and Star Wars films prior, it can be argued that the marketing has been pretty minimalistic. Disney focused more on characters and their relationships with the audience as opposed to million dollar television adverts and collaborations with fast food companies, etc. The merchandise has always been a huge part of the Star Wars franchise, so it was unsurprising to see the amount that has been produced as a result of the release of The Force Awakens; particularly with new technologies.

I feel the marketing campaign has been minimalistic due to the loyal fanbase, this has only been amplified by the marketing campaigns being based in events such as Comic-Con, CinemaCon and the Star Wars Celebration event. The film has definitely drawn in their regular audience, but also newcomers who have joined because of the popularity of the Star Wars franchise previously and the anticipation for what was to come.

The Force Awakens excelled in the franchise, with little in terms of marketing. Did this amplify its success or limit it? Clearly amplified if you ask me.


Lets talk a little about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story released in December 2016.

Disney and Lucasfilm announced that they were teaming up with four large companies in order promote the new film:

  • 02
  • World Duty Free
  • Gillette
  • Kaspersky

We are extremely pleased to be working with four such outstanding European promotional partners for Rogue One. This first in a series of Star Wars standalone films represents an exciting new era for both Star Wars and Lucasfilm, and the brands joining us on this exciting journey have each designed a stellar campaign capturing the spirit and camaraderie of Rogue One.

Lynwen Brennan, General Manager of Lucasfilm

02’s campaign included an opportunity for its audiences to be the first to view Rogue One through tickets for the premiere of the film. 02 achieved this through their Priority app where customers could enter an event in order to win tickers. They also gave Priority customers discounts of merchandise, the ability to win more tickets or a six-month DisneyLife subscription.

World Duty Free launched a marketing campaign in their Gatwick stores and throughout the airport.

Rogue One lands at World Duty Free, Gatwick

The campaign strived to drive in-store purchases through features of experimental marketing activities, a combination of digital and theatrical events and on airport media, containing exclusive content. In the airport there was a display of costumes and a 360 degree virtual reality experience.

Gillette, an International leading men’s grooming brand, launched a campaign in support of Rogue One holds the title: Every Story Has a Face. The campaign included a one-off, special edition gift pack including four designs featuring iconic Star Wars assets and Gillette products.

Security company, Kaspersky, links their product of security with the themes of security featured within the film. They included a media campaign digitally, through pre-roll, outdoors, online and through social media, offering for their consumers to purchase their ‘Ultimate Protection product’ a Rogue One: A Star Wars Story digital screensaver.

Our brand collaboration strategy for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ensures each campaign hits a different audience for the movie, whether that’s young adults through the 02 Priority App, families at World Duty Free and Gatwick or tech savvy consumers through Kaspersky. 

Anna Hill, CMO, Disney UK & Ireland

It is argued that Rogue One has faced a number of difficulties through its marketing campaign that haven’t been faced during previous movies.

  • Rogue One isn’t part of a trilogy and therefore doesn’t have an episode designation in comparison to the seven episodes so far.
  • The film doesn’t follow a major part of the story, but instead follows Jyn Erso, a Rebel operative set to steal Death Star plans, in a bid to destroy it.
  • There isn’t over 10 years build up for the film, as the last film only happened a year prior.

The marketing campaign for Rogue One wasn’t even close to being on the scale of that of The Force Awakens. The marketing campaign includes three trailers, a few posters and limited cast appearances, normal for that of a typical blockbuster but not Star Wars.

Rogue One again focused on the nostalgia of the characters included. There is also an inclusion of a story from the non-core stories that have been given through books and comics.

Rogue One didn’t have a lot going for it (in comparison) so how did it become such a success?

Similar to my statement following The Force Awakens campaign, it is important to look at the fans, those who are loyal and those who have been with Star Wars since the beginning. Is that all it comes down to?

May the force be with you.


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