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How You Can Replicate Star Wars' $7 Billion Marketing Success

Jon Tan
Jon Tan
February 1, 2016
2 min read
How You Can Replicate Star Wars' $7 Billion Marketing Success

It grossed $2 billion in cinemas and sold $5 billion of merchandise in a single year.

That’s enough money to subscribe to Netflix for nearly 17 million years.

We’re talking about Star Wars Episode VII - the greatest box office success of all time and an example of flawlessly executed marketing.

To help you channel the Force in your marketing, we highlight 13 brilliant marketing strategies behind the colossal success of Star Wars VII...

Along with examples of how other businesses have successfully used similar strategies and how you can adapt these strategies in your own marketing efforts.

marketing success

1. Create A Special Day

On May the 4th each year, people around the world celebrate Star Wars day. The date was chosen as a pun of Star Wars’ catchphrase “May The Force Be With You”.

The phrase dates back to at least 1979, on the day Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. Her party took an ad out in the papers that went “May the fourth be with you Maggie, congratulations.”

Festivities in 2015 include Star Wars viewings on the International Space Station, a nationwide celebration in the UK and thousands of smaller grassroots events around the world.

In addition, retailers often offer promotions on Star Wars merchandise on Star Wars day - a win-win for retailers and fans, who are primed to snap up merchandise and display their fandom.


International ice cream chain Ben & Jerry’s celebrates its annual Free Cone Day in stores around the world.

Though the brand gives out over a million scoops of ice cream on Free Cone Day, the excitement leading up to the event and the happy afterglow of a free ice cream keeps Ben & Jerry’s at the front of consumers minds.

All these good memories foster brand loyalty that no ad campaign can buy.

Fun Fact: Free Cone Day is a busy, busy affair - A friend of the author who worked at Ben & Jerry’s actually sprained her wrist after serving one too many free scoops on Free Cone Day.


Rather than simply running a sale, consider branding your sale as a celebration or event.

Give it a unique name and build anticipation on your marketing platforms.

This way, you can turn a simple promotion into something your customers will look forward to and remember.

Read next: Gotta Get Down On Friday: 13 Examples of Triggers Used in Marketing

2. Support A Charity

Force For Change is a charity initiative by Star Wars’ parent companies, Disney and Lucasfilm, in collaboration with UNICEF.

Since mid-2014, Force For Change has been actively raising funds for charitable organizations by leveraging the Star Wars brand.

For instance, the initiative organized a contest with an incredible prize - a walk-on role in Star Wars Episode VII. All you had to do to enter was make a donation through Force For Good.

The contest for the walk-on role raised a staggering $4.26 million for UNICEF.


For each pair of glasses you purchase from Warby Parker, the company makes a donation to nonprofit partners that trains men and women in developing countries to give eye exams while subsidizing the price of corrective eyewear.

The initiative has provided over a million pairs of glasses to people in need.

This improves brand perception and makes consumers more likely to buy from Warby Parker because it feels good knowing part of their investment goes to a good cause.


Consider supporting a charitable cause that aligns with your brand.

A study by Fox Business showed that 90% of consumers would switch from brands they’re currently loyal to to socially responsible ones.

Be sure to pick a cause that’s relevant to your brand. Backing a cause that's incongruent with your brand identity might dilute (or even damage) your brand and confuse your customers.

Read next: How Warby Parker Earned Word-of-Mouth By Using Storytelling And Remarkable Experiences (8+ Examples)

3. Form Brand Partnerships

From Star Wars themed Nerf blasters and customized Twitter Emojis to a wholly unexpected cosmetics line in collaboration with Covergirl…

It was nigh impossible to turn your head in any direction and not see something Star Wars themed in the months leading up to Star Wars Episode VII.

Pairing the Star Wars brand with a ridiculous number of product lines meant people would be bombarded with constant reminders of Star Wars everywhere they turned.

This move is beneficial to both the Star Wars brand and to partnering brands - fans of each brand could potentially crossover and become fans of the partnering brand too.


Fast-fashion retailer H&M changed the fashion game by partnering with luxury fashion houses like Balmain as well as style icons like David Beckham.

At the launch of its Balmain collaboration, long lines formed outside H&M outlets worldwide and pieces were snapped up in mere minutes, leading to outraged fashionistas flooding Twitter with furious rants.

Some brands form partnerships by offering or promoting products from other brands that complement their own.

Lifestyle and fashion brand Shinola produces its own watches, but stocks watch straps and accessories from partnering brands.

Further reading: Check out more fashion marketing strategies here in our 25 Strategies From The Fashion Industry.


Consider collaborations with complementary brands that would benefit from reaching out to your customers. Of course, your brand should want to reach its customers too.

This could be as simple as a shoutout on social media to something as involved as a co-designed product.

4. Have a Timeless Slogan

“May The Force Be With You” was first used in Star Wars Episode IV (which was actually the first Star Wars movie released).

Nearly four decades later and 7 movies later, the phrase is still used by Star Wars fans around the world as a message of goodwill.

The American Film Institute ranked it one of the top 10 movie quotes of all time.


In 1962, Car Rental company Avis embraced its 2nd place position in the market and changed its slogan to “We Try Harder”.

In the year that followed, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to making $1.2 million - a number it hadn’t seen in 13 years.

A year after introducing “Got Milk” as the California Milk Processor Board’s new slogan, the California region sold a record high of 2.8 billion gallons of milk.


A sticky slogan is a very powerful way to influence how customers talk about your brand.

If your business doesn’t already have a slogan, today’s as great a day as any to come up with one!

To get you started… or to gauge how effective your current slogan is, refer to this checklist from slogan crowdsourcing site Slogan Slingers:

Simplicity - Is it straightforward, honest, short?

Clarity –Is it really clear what you’re trying to say without leaving the customer scratching their heads?

Essence – Is it the very essence of what your customers need from your business?

Memorability – Is the phrase catchy memorable. If you write it down and leave it for a day or two, will you still remember it?

Read next: The 10 Best Marketing Slogans… Ever!

5. Employ Perfect Timing

Star Wars merchandise have always been as big of a deal as the movies themselves. Collectors worldwide clamor over Star Wars goodies, with a rare action figure recently fetching nearly $20,000 on the collectors market.

Knowing fans would flock to stores to snatch up the Episode VII merchandise, Disney synchronized the global release of merchandise and created an event around it, naming it Force Friday.

Purveyors of Star Wars merchandise can be split into two large populations -

  1. Star Wars fans grew up watching the trilogies and are now working adults.
  2. Children who more recently became fans of the series… who’ll need to be accompanied to the toy store with their parents.

Scheduling Force Friday on the Labor Day weekend made it convenient for working adults to arrange a day off to take themselves and/or their kids to snag some Star Wars goodies.

The result of planning the perfect launch timing? Over $1 billion dollars of merchandise sales in a single day.

In fact, nearly 10% of every dollar spent on retail that Labor Day weekend went to Star Wars.


Though now notorious for struggling to deliver its product, Kickstarter legend Coolest Cooler (a tricked-out cooler box) is a perfect example of how choosing the right sales period is integral to your product’s success.

Before it raised over $13 million on Kickstarter, the Coolest Cooler had failed once to meet its minimum funding target.

The primary difference between a mind-blowingly successful Kickstarter run and its initial failure? Timing.

Coolest’s first campaign ran in the dead of winter when no one was even thinking of picnics or camping, while its $13 million run happened in the height of summer when ice-cold lemonade was all anyone could think about.

Another great example comes from fast food chain Arby’s.

Pharrell Williams appeared at the 2014 Grammy’s with a monty hat that bore a striking resemblance to the Arby’s logo.

Arby’s capitalized on the opportunity by tweeting Pharrell with:

“Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back?”

The perfectly timed tweet was retweeted close to 80,000times and received over 50,000likes.


Seasonal and timely marketing lets your message reach customers when they’re most ready to receive it.

Pick a time when your customers need your product or service the most and crank your marketing efforts to 11.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to tie your product or brand to a current event, that’s even better , you’ll be able to make a connection with what your customers already have on their mind.

6. Use Nostalgia

Star Wars has had a long history spanning close to four decades. Fans of the original movies are now all grown up… but they sure do remember the good old Star Wars from their childhood.

Unfortunately, the Star Wars prequels of the early 2000s were not as warmly received as the original trilogy. Many fans consider the prequels a disgrace to the franchise.

Stepping out of the prequel films’ shadows, Star Wars Episode VII had a lot to live up to…

Director JJ Abrams had to expertly maneuver around the lampooned prequel films.

He did this by drawing obvious parallels to the original trilogy and highlighting this in marketing materials.

Trailers featured scenes visually similar to iconic shots from the original trilogy and the actual movie’s plot was eerily identical - all to say “This is the Star Wars that the fans know and love.”

Did it work? The film’s critical acclaim says it all.


In September, the Coca-Cola company re-released a drink that hasn’t been on shelves for over a decade- Surge.

It had previously re-released the notoriously unhealthy drink in 2013 in an Amazon sale where it sold out in minutes.

Packaged almost identically to the original release of the drink, it’s targeted at millennials, appealing to 90’s nostalgia.

With a clear picture of where their customers are, the company has chosen to focus Surge’s marketing campaign entirely on social media.


Ecommerce is a fairly new industry and few businesses can use nostalgia in the way Disney and Coca-Cola have.

Even if you’re not selling a retro product or the owner of a business with a rich history, you can still use nostalgia in your marketing.

Oak Street Bootmakers is a footwear manufacturer based in Chicago. Though the company is just 7 years old, it taps on centuries of tradition by using an age old boot-making process.

The company markets their boots as being made like they were in the “good old days”. That’s nostalgia.

7. Unite Your Fans

Unlike most films with varying release dates by country, Episode VII had a simultaneous release date around the world (with the exception of China...because of regulations).

This was so Disney could give all its fans a fair shot at catching Episode VII on the same day, making release day a global celebration.

Around the world, Star Wars fans eagerly counted down to December 17th 2015 to be a part of Star Wars history.

As release day drew closer, the anticipation for Episode VII created a flood of Star Wars related news and social media content.


Apple has managed to generate enormous amounts of anticipation and excitement each time it releases a new product.

Speculation about the next iPhone is a constant topic on most tech blogs and sites while “insider leaks” immediately shoot to the front page.

Live streams of Apple keynote events announcing new iPhones draw millions of viewers from around the globe.

Leading up to release day, Apple fans camp for days (sometimes in extreme weather) outside Apple stores to be the first to get their hands on new iPhones.

Demand for new Apple products are so ridiculous that some industrious individuals have taken to hiring people to queue for the new iPhones to immediately flip them for a tidy profit.


Even without the enormous fan base that Star Wars and Apple possess, you can create epic launches for your products.

You can turn your product launch into an event - organize promotions, teasers and giveaways built around your launch.

Consider letting opinion leaders review your products before your launch to create anticipation.

Give your customers reasons to be excited about your launch. Let them know how their lives are going to change once your product becomes available to them.

8. Use Tools That Already Exist

Of all the Star Wars toys released for Episode VII, the biggest hit was a remote controlled version of BB-8 - a spherical droid featured in the movie.

Designed and manufactured in partnership with Sphero, a tech company specializing in remote controlled spheres, it was one of the most in demand toys of the holiday season.

As a testament to its popularity, Sphero’s CEO revealed that every single remote controlled BB-8 manufactured so far has been sold.


Dollar Shave Club offers subscription-based shaving equipment.

To combat the problem of men overusing their razors and harming their skin, Dollar Shave Club sends a fresh razor to your home each month.

Rather than reinventing the wheel and needlessly designing their own razors, Dollar Shave Club sources its razors from Dorco, an online shaver merchant.

This allows Dollar Shave Club to focus their efforts on what makes their service unique - a beautifully packaged, convenient reminder to take care of your face, dutifully delivered every month.


Much of your marketing efforts can be simplified with the use of tools that automate the tedious parts of the marketing process.

For instance:

Hootsuite allows you to manage multiple social media accounts without the hassle of keeping dozens of windows open.

Mention keeps track of brand mentions so you don’t miss any golden opportunities to interact with your customers.

ReferralCandy (that's us) allows you to easily setup and run customer referral programs.

Read next: 20 Customer Acquisition Tools to Power Up Your Business

9. Reward And Empower Your Fans

Star Wars boasts some of the most dedicated fans in the galaxy. They spread the Star Wars fandom through independently organized events around the globe and to their friends and families presumably by osmosis.

An example of the most dedicated of fans are the 501st Legion - a global organization of diehard Star Wars fans who dress up as characters from the Star Wars series.

Members of the 501st volunteer their time to make in-costume appearances at events, often only requesting that event organizers make a donation to charity

Lucasfilms (prior to their purchase by Disney) officially acknowledged the 501st Legion by writing them into the official Star Wars mythos.


Hootsuite’s ambassador program rewards its most vocal and supportive fans by recognizing them as brand ambassadors.

Ambassadors are given numerous perks such as access to educational resources and a chance to shape the Hootsuite app through feedback.

Because becoming an ambassador also requires a level of expertise in utilizing social media, the position becomes an excellent recognized addition to a resumé.

In return, Hootsuite’s ambassadors fervently promote the brand with a level of reach and dedication no marketing budget can buy.

High-end camera accessory maker Manfrotto sent thousands of dollars of their latest gear to prominent YouTuber and loyal Manfrotto customer Casey Neistat.

Neistat gave a glowing review of his freebies on his daily vlog, which received over half a million views overnight - creating positive brand impressions that massively out value the cost of Manfrotto’s freebies.


With the right incentives, you can turn your best customers and most fervent fans into loyal brand ambassadors.

Vocal fans and ambassadors are Incredible powerful asset to your business.

A 2012 Nielsen study showed that 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends more than anything else.

It’s worth the effort to go a step beyond rewarding your greatest customers and fervent fans with freebies.

Including a personalized note or or mention is a surefire way to get your customers raving about you on social media - people love to feel special.

10. Stretch Your Content

In the months before Star Wars VII’s release, Disney slowly released numerous posters, trailers and teasers across traditional media outlets and social media platforms.

Even after the movie hit cinemas, Disney continues to release new content on social media.

And now that much of the world has already seen the new movie, Disney is releasing behind-the-scenes footage instead.

The amazing thing about Episode VII’s content marketing is that majority of marketing materials were simply repurposed from pre-existing footage and images -

Teasers were clips from trailers, trailers were clips from the film and promotional stills were essentially screenshots from the movie.


Pop artist Lana Del Rey promoted her single “West Coast” by uploading GIFs taken from the “West Coast” music video to Tumblr.

Creating the GIFs required little extra effort as the music video had already been shot.

The note received just over 32,000 notes (Tumblr’s version of a share) - an amazing result for what would have taken a tech-savvy intern no more than 10 minutes to create.


If your brand utilizes a content marketing strategy, you can maximize the utility of each piece of content by repurposing and recycling content for different mediums.

Perhaps you could split an infographic into snippets for Instagram? Or maybe you could grab a quote from a long form post and repurpose it for Twitter?

Here at ReferralCandy, we maximize the mileage of our infographics by converting them for use on SlideShare and Facebook.

11. Don't Lose Your Marketing Momentum

In the wake of Episode VII’s extraordinary success, Disney isn’t taking any time off to celebrate.

As the buzz around Episode VII gradually begins to slow down, the company has already begun marketing the next Star Wars film titled “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”.

The strategy is clearly working - a poll by Fandango showed that Rogue One is the most hotly anticipated movie of 2016.


Electric longboard company Boosted Boards organized a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012 and began shipping their longboards in 2014.

Kickstarter campaigns enjoy a spike in interest at several points of their campaign. One major point is when products begin shipping - people are excited to receive their product and naturally, create buzz about it again.

Boosted Boards capitalized on this opportunity. Just weeks after shipping began, the company announced a second run of upgraded boards at a much lower price point.

The cleverly timed announcement was covered on popular tech sites like Engadget and Gizmodo.


Entice customers into making their next purchase when they’re most excited about your brand.

This is usually the moment immediately after they make a purchase.

A great way to do this is to offer them a discount on a future purchase once they complete their checkout.

Better yet, encourage them to share their fresh purchase on social media - in this day and age, part of the joy of making any purchase is telling everyone on Facebook about it.

12. Turn Your Staff Into Celebrities

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega play the lead roles in Star Wars Episode VII. Prior to Episode VII, the fresh faced actors were hardly known at all.

Of course, being part of something as monumental as a Star Wars film meant they immediately shot into stardom.

In turn, the pair’s social media generated significant buzz about Episode VII. In particular, their first reactions to the Star Wars trailer, which they shared on Instagram and Youtube, was covered by numerous news channels.


Public interest in space travel was waning ... until the Canadian Space Agency placed astronaut commander Chris Hadfield in the spotlight.

The charismatic Hadfield documented facets of his daily life in space on social media and the world absolutely loved it -

a video of Hadfield wringing water out of a towel current has close to 13 million views.


It’s a lot easier to be a fan of something when there’s a human element to relate to.

In a tribute article, Gizmodo dubbed Hadfield the “most important astronaut in decades”.

You or your team members are very likely to be the best possible ambassadors of your brand, so consider featuring them (or yourself) in your marketing.

13. Gather Content From Your Audience

“Share The Force” is a Star Wars fan site created by Target and backed by Disney.

Fans of all ages are encouraged to submit their Star Wars memories - from veterans who eagerly eyed Star Wars figures under the Christmas tree in 1979…

to a new generation of Star Wars fans catching the original trilogy for the first time on Netflix.

Memories are stored as stars a 3D galaxy, coming together to form galaxies resembling famous Star Wars characters. These memories could then be shared across social media.

Rather brilliantly, the campaign was designed to create anticipation for Force Friday. Then, with a mighty second wind, it became a portal for fans to share their hauls from Force Friday.


Crowdsourcing content is a rather common tactic in marketing… but it is a tactic that can go wrong easily.

Mountain Dew famously launched a campaign where fans could come up with new Mountain Dew flavors and share them on social media.

Users quickly flooded the contest with inappropriate and R-rated flavours with names... like Grandma’s Juices.

For a simpler, classier example of crowdsourcing content, look to indie rock band Arcade Fire. The band asked fans to submit photos from the band’s tour, posting the photos on their official social media.

This was a win-win for the band and fans - Arcade Fire had unique content and fans could leave a footprint on Arcade Fire’s biggest online assets.


The goal here is to make your customers look good while they show off using your product.

North Face frequently features its customers on their blog, rewarding the best travel pictures of customers in North Face gear with vouchers.

Similarly, you can entice your audience deliver amazing content by incentivizing them with rewards and discounts.


Read next: Another way Star Wars is so incredibly successful is, of course, because of their incredible storytelling throughout not just their movies but all of their products.

You can also implement storytelling within your marketing strategies that are just as effective as Star War's is.


We explain everything here in your Storytelling in Marketing article.

Jon Tan
Jon Tan

My coffee expenses and my office rental are one and the same.Terrified of mathematics and carbohydrates.

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