The Buzz Awakens: The first ‘Star Wars’ of the Social Media Age

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It feels like a long time ago in an advertising eco-system far, far away that the last Star Wars film ‘Revenge of the Sith’ premiered.

It was the year 2005 and the biggest names in social networking (if it was even called that back then) were the burgeoning online-identity powerhouses of MySpace and LinkedIn, with a novel little video hosting website called YouTube having launched earlier that year (hardly the plethora of digital channels marketers have access to today).

The world of digital marketing has undeniably terraformed over the decade since, particularly when it comes to the promotion of blockbuster legacy reboots. But Star Wars VII ‘The Force Awakens’, the latest episode in the film franchise, is changing up the game yet again and, just in terms of social presence, is becoming more powerful than we could have possibly imagined.

At last count the films hotly anticipated cinematic trailer has reached over 400 million views across both YouTube and Facebook, driven a couple-hundred thousand Google search’s, and generated (in just one recent week) over a million tweets with half as many re-tweets – roughly double the overall buzz achieved by both Jurassic World and The Avengers: Age of Ultron combined.

This film was always going to be big. I mean we are talking about the world’s most recognisable film franchise being launched with clinical precision by the most efficient and expansive entertainment-marketing machine on the planet.

And the initial secrecy and subsequent hype Disney has woven around this release, steadily building our nervous anticipation into a fanatical fervour, has been Jedi-like in its mastery, not to mention unprecedented in both its global scale and coordination.

From a Social Insights perspective I have found this ‘gargantuan-yet-meticulous’ promotional delivery fascinating. And there are three PO’s (personal outtakes) from the Star War’s marketing blitz that have thrown me head-first into a mighty Sarlacc pit of admiration (warning: my film references only get worse from this point on). They are:

  1. The vigilant administration of social buzz around their release.
  2. The super-agile social community management.
  3. The final onslaught across every channel and product line in existence.

To the first point Disney’s key marketing personnel have been keen to quash any assumptions on their buzz management techniques, but they have described a key challenge as being their careful nourishment of total social conversation from as far back as their acquisition of the Star Wars brand from George Lucas in 2012, all the while being conscious of not burning out the motivators of their fan’s enthusiasm too early.

Of course the social monitoring/listening of online buzz for the purposes of analysing fan engagement, content testing, and the development of commercial strategies is not new (in Hollywood at least). They have been collating thematic data and sentiment feedback on everything from casting decisions to plot expectations, and sometimes even influencing creative decisions as far back as the initial development of film scripts themselves. Social listening has in recent years been taken even more seriously after its alignment of both online buzz with scarily accurate projections on box office earnings. A few key films, like tenderfoot title Divergent for example, was predicted by more traditional projection metrics to be thoroughly-outshone by the last Muppets movie (another legacy brand) when they were released head-to-head. It was only the online buzz that reflected Divergent’s impending success and sure enough it triumphed substantially, and against all other odds. Finally illuminating the reality that traditional box office pundits have been looking in Alderaan places (wincing intensifies).

In this vein, US based BoxOffice.com analyst Shawn Robbins, has recently projected ‘The Force Awakens’ opening at more than $200 million. Which, for a December release, would be breaking records if it approached even half this forecast.

“The social media numbers make clear that we are dealing with a movie that is going to be something really special,” Robbins said.

So in the words of Uncle Ben Kenobi ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

Leading to my second point that when it comes to managing the official voice of the Star Wars juggernaut in the fast-paced and highly scrutinised world of social networking the mantra has to be ‘there is no try’.

And as expected Disney’s social community-management entourage are downright owning the challenge. For example, as a community manager there isn’t much more of a daunting challenge than responding to a comment from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about how he loves Star Wars. A simple ‘Thanks a lot Mark’ just wouldn’t suffice. But with the effortlessness and wisdom of Yoda the Star Wars team responded with the unassuming film reference ‘We know’.

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Now finally, once Disney had successfully held off the motivational burnout of their Star Wars fans for long enough, and had geared enough conversations in the media to fuel any number of speculations about the release, the immense marketing battle-station effectively primed itself to fire.

And fire it did.

Every channel and product line you could think of suddenly appeared to have a Star Wars tilt and, if they were one of the lucky ones, were awarded full ‘Official Star Wars’ merchandise status.

Obviously there are too many products and obscure commercial touchpoints to mention even a fraction of them, but my favourite channel use to date would be the 18-hour-long live YouTube streaming of ‘box openings’ for all the key Star Wars toys.

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Unlike TVSN or the like, the genuine fervour of this extraordinary global online infomercial pageant is uncomfortably infectious, and surprisingly makes for great watching… even if those showcased are not the toys you are looking for.

So unfortunately if you are among the glowering minority that is not a Star Wars fan (the Dark Side) then I’m afraid to say there is nowhere you can physically or virtually hide to escape the impending rebel assault of Star Wars Episode VII’s premiere. But my advice is to buckle up, don’t get cocky, and attempt to (in some small way at least) relish in the fervour and enjoyment this franchise imbues…    it’s your only hope.

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