What Goodwill Shelves Tell Us About Merchandising the Star Wars Brand


Star Wars

The French aren’t going to like this but even the Louvre is exploiting a Star Wars marketing tie-in. La Force est forte avec ce musée.

But then, Star Wars is global like never before. In fact, the French will even get to see the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens film before Americans. Before anyone. The film opens there on Dec 16, two days before the US release date.

But America remains Star Wars’ core demographic and the insanity begins today when the newest trailer (watch below) is released during Monday Night Football, with advance online ticket sales available immediately after.

A sellout is expected. Theater chains including Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Drafthouse will feature exclusive first-day gifts. For example, Drafthouse will offer a Star Wars premier pint glass. Other theaters across the nation will run Star Wars movie marathons, with all six previous films shown in succession before the latest episode seven: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Full list of participating cities and theaters here.

Several teasers for the trailer have already been released.

And the merchandising blitz has already begun, with Target, Walmart and other retailers already selling the COVERGIRL makeup and other licensing tie-ins that were announced in August.

Star Wars COVERGIRL Light Side Dark Side Force Awakens 2015

The December 2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens will awaken a future Star Wars film calendar that will make The Lord of the Rings series look like a short-run Amazon Prime romcom. To date, a new Star Wars movie is scheduled for every year through 2019. Additionally, spinoff feature films starring Han Solo and Boba Fett are in the works.

But why debut the much anticipated new trailer during a Monday night football game on ESPN? Because Disney owns ESPN, of course.

Fans have long lamented George Lucas’s cross-merchandising guile and naked commercialization of the franchise. But Lucas was just bullseyeing womp rats with his T-16 compared to the force that Disney is about to unleash.

Star Wars’ new marketing strategy is clearly based on the success of Disney Princesses. Fans will certainly recognize that since Star Wars merchandising moved under the Disney umbrella in 2014, the breath of branded products has expanded, seemingly unrestricted.

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It’s no surprise Disney would copy of the success it has seen with merchandising its Princesses line. Once upon a time, Disney’s Princesses existed alone in their own little story-line islands. Merchandise opportunities for Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast’s Belle were not connected.

Today, Disney offers numerous products featuring all or a selection of the Princesses together. It’s a sorority. And this strategy has been profitable. In 2013, Disney reported nearly $41 billion from its merchandise lines.

Disney’s Princesses strategy was extended to its other properties. Cars, part of the Pixar stable that Disney acquired in 2006, is now a monster merchandise outlet for Disney, with its annual merchandise worth north of $10 billion. Disney will soon open a Cars Land park (merchandise already available.)

In fact, Disney now has seven billion-dollar merchandising lines based on its entertainment properties: Princesses, Cars, Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Monsters, Spider-Man, Disney Junior. Others like Planes and Avengers—Disney bought Marvel in 2009—are not far behind.

Technically, Star Wars is the eighth such franchise but it was already a billion-dollar merchandise when Disney bought it. Expect Disney to soon make Star Wars the company’s largest merchandise stream.

There is a downside for Disney’s property. By doing going down this road, Star Wars is essentially giving up part of what made the property so popular for so long: scarcity.

At my local Savers—a charitable resale store much like Goodwill Industries—Luke Skywalker and his X-Wing are packed into a $2.99 grab bag of other random toys. Another bag has a storm trooper and AT-AT. On a nearby shelf, a well worn and incomplete Star Wars spaceship, R2D2’s dome sticking up, is a few bucks. On any random day, shoppers can find Star Wars jetsam on its shelves, indicating that somewhere, a child was content with giving up a Star Wars toy.

Star Wars

For fans of the original Star Wars films, finding any Star Wars toy discarded at a resale store or a garage sale was once unthinkable. While it’s true Star Wars reinvented tie-in merchandising, it also achieved a level of scarcity and exclusivity. Convincing Lucas to grant an official license was supremely difficult. Now there Millennium Falcon toilet covers, storm trooper spatulas and Darth Vader-Frankenstein mashup walking robots. There are even Chewbacca Crocs… in adult sizes.

Disney seems perfectly content to cash in no matter the consequences. While some ads play on Star Wars nostalgia (PlayStation’s ad above), others confront it. In a perfectly toned commercial from new Star Wars merchandise partner Heinz Mac and Cheese, the next generation of Star Wars consumer mocks the elder’s reverence.


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