In mid-December, the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, will make its theatrical debut.
The stakes are high for Disney, which purchased Star Wars creator Lucasfilm for more than $4bn in 2012. The movie industry, like so many others, is changing (or being disrupted if you prefer) and blockbuster hits are increasingly important to studios, even one as blessed as Disney with strong franchises.
The Star Wars franchise is one of the most successful ever in the history of movies and today, the success of the franchise actually depends more on merchandise sales than ticket sales. Last year, Star Wars generated more than $5bn in merchandise sales and was the leading driver behind a 4.4% increase in total licensed merchandise sales, a now-$260bn a year business.
It therefore goes without saying that a big part of the success of Star Wars: The Last Jedi will depend on merchandise sales. But with the retail industry fighting for life, Disney faces a new challenge: making sure Star Wars fans go to the store. After all, while merchandise will be available online, the company simply can’t shun offline merchandise sales.
So Disney has decided to take a page from the Pokémon Go playbook in an effort to get Star Wars fans into stores where it hopes they will buy merchandise. The entertainment giant is adding an augmented reality treasure hunt to its Star Wars iOS and Android apps. As detailed in an announcement on the Star Wars website:
From September 1-3, retailers around the world will invite fans to Find the Force by taking part in an AR treasure hunt. Here’s how it works: first, download the Star Wars app, which is your one-stop-shop for all things Star Wars (those who already have the app will need to download the latest version). Then, visit any one of 20,000 participating retail locations to find a graphic that contains the Find the Force logo. When you scan the graphic using the Star Wars app, you’ll reveal a character, who through AR, will appear in the room with you.
In total, there are 15 characters and Star Wars fans are being encouraged to go to participating locations all three days of the treasure hunt as new characters will be unveiled each day.
Retailers in 30 countries are participating in Find the Force. In the United States, participating retailers include Walmart, Toys R Us, Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s. In the UK, retailers include Smyths, John Lewis and HMV.
Not surprisingly, the Find the Force experience has been designed to be social media-friendly. The Star Wars app will allow users to take photos and record videos and then share them on social media using the hashtags #ForceFriday and #FindtheForce. Clearly, if Disney has its way, Find the Force will go viral and Star Wars fans won’t be able to resist coming out of their houses and heading down to retail locations to get involved.
Not just a cool campaign, but a necessity?
On paper, Find the Force looks to be an innovative experiential marketing program that will test the longevity of the Pokémon Go concept, but it’s also worth considering that it is also a demonstration of the fact that brands increasingly have no choice but to create bigger and bolder campaigns to capture attention, even for brand assets that have historically had a strong built-in fan base.
This is particularly true when it comes to driving foot traffic, as the challenging retail market means that even Disney can’t expect fans of one of its most popular franchises to go to stores and buy merchandise without a greater effort at engagement.
As the New York Times’ Brooks Barnes observed, “The effort illustrates what it now takes to generate excitement at traditional retail outlets, many of which have been struggling as online shopping continues to soar.”
The big question: will Find the Force actually work at driving foot traffic and will that foot traffic deliver merchandise sales?
We will soon find out, but one thing is already abundantly clear: changing consumer shopping habits, particularly among Millennials and teenagers, have left even the most powerful brands without a formula to get consumers to go where they want them to go and they will increasingly have to look to new technologies like AR and trends like Pokémon Go for inspiration.