In a galaxy not so far away, brands and publishers really love ‘Star Wars’

Disney’s “very careful” marketing plan is turning out to be a giant party — and it feels like everyone is invited.

While Disney-owned Lucasfilm has been successfully generating an awesome amount of buzz in the run-up to the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” affiliated brands and publishers working hard to turn some of that buzz into a buck for themselves.

Among brands, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese may be an early winner. For its line of mac and cheese shaped like “Star Wars” characters, the brand borrowed some movie memorabilia from a man who goes by Rancho Obi-Won and allegedly owns the largest private Star Wars collection in the world. The vintage toys appear in a TV commercial and on a 3D website. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese boxes will also feature faces of characters and be collectibles themselves.

Adam Chasnow, who headed the Kraft project at agency CP+B, said that Kraft has done partnership deals with movies before, including for “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Disney approached Kraft and said this was a partnership that made sense, said Chasnow. “Kraft is an icon; ‘Star Wars’ is an icon,” he said. This was a nice opportunity to talk to the parents who had grown up on a diet of orange noodles and Jedi Knights.

Kraft is one of the official brand tie-ins by Lucasfilm. Other tie-ins include one with Covergirl, which created a line of cosmetics with Star Wars branding. And there are tie-ins with Verizon, General Mills, Subway, Duracell and Chrysler that have been blessed by the corporate marketing gods at Disney. Southwest Airlines tweeted “#FeesDontFly: The Fares Awaken,” while Lego has made a Lego-version of the official poster.

“This brand stuff is spot-on when it comes to timing,” said D’nae Kingsley, head of integrated strategy at Trailer Park and Engine Group which works heavily with movie and movie-related marketing. “What I’m seeing is that movies have an ‘always-on’ strategy that’s often multiyear.”

There has, of course, probably never been a movie quite as anticipated as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh in the long-running franchise and the first in a decade. A trailer was released during Monday Night Football and went wildly viral on YouTube. On an earnings call in May, Disney CEO Bob Ige said that he plans to release the film in a “very, very careful way” as part of what he called a “carefully designed marketing plan.”

Brands are not alone in glomming onto the phenomenon: The force is strong with publishers, too. The New York Times Store released a collection of the paper’s “Star Wars” coverage over the years called “History of the Force: New York Times Headlines from Far, Far Away.” At Entertainment Weekly, the publisher is putting out its second “Star Wars” cover within a three-month period. A fourth, a double issue that will go on sale on Nov. 13, will feature multiple collectors’ edition covers. A spokesperson said had “massive, record-breaking traffic” with the last “Star Wars” cover.

Anthony Breznican, a senior writer and resident “Star Wars” expert at EW, said his team began figuring out the coverage plan for the film almost two years ago. “We’ve tried not to overdo it; you don’t want to make people sick of the thing they love.” He’s also tried to put reporters on the beat who he says “get” “Star Wars” and report it the right way.

For other publishers, simply posting the trailer after it aired was enough: Mother Jones, one of the outlets that slapped a trailer up on its site, gave it a headline and watched the traffic roll in, to the tune of 3,000 shares soon after going live.

According to Twitter data, 390,000 tweets went out in a three-hour period between 7:50 p.m. and 10:50 p.m. Monday night. The peak was 17,000 tweets per minute right as the trailer went live. The launch of the trailer sent fans into a frenzy and crashed the websites that were pre-selling tickets. Networked Insights found that, based on social chatter, Star Wars may well be the biggest movie ever.

Still, while the timing may feel right for brands, the fit may not. Kingsley said that often brands tend to focus on a weak link like “we’re trying to aim this at women aged 20 to 30,” when they need to focus much more on a methodical link between their product and the movie in question. “What is it about cheese and noodles that is a connection to Star Wars? There might be a connection, but what is it?”

For CP+B, the connection is definitely there. And Chasnow said the more brand action, the better. “Star Wars is one of the few properties that can sustain itself on this stuff.”

Breznican of EW, who describes himself as a “crazy fan,” said that might not be true. He said Disney has been subtle, so it balances against the crazy stuff brands might do. “You can get Chewbacca-flavored coffee or dog food or whatever,” he said. “We all need to be aware that the casual fan — which are most fans — can get exhausted.”

Homepage image via Kraft

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