The force has been strong with Star Wars on social media this year—not a scruffy-looking nerf herder in sight.
If you know how many parsecs the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel run in or what AT-AT stands for (hint: it’s not a telephone company), then social media’s favorite topic of 2015 has probably been a delight to you. Otherwise, well let’s just say, these are not the social media posts you’re looking for…
The release of the highly anticipated seventh installment in the galaxy’s favorite “trilogy” has been a marketing juggernaut for filmmaker Disney, their partners, and numerous other brands.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first in the series to debut in a social media-saturated world—2005’s Revenge of the Sith came out before the rise of Facebook—and Disney has been quick to capitalize on a myriad of opportunities from targeted events (some fan-driven, like May the 4th, and others manufactured marketing moments, like Force Friday) to partnerships with top brands.
With a galaxy full of fans clamoring for more Star Wars, marketing campaigns certainly had a willing audience, but they were also well-timed and well-executed. So, in honor of Episode VII, we rounded up seven of our favorite Star Wars social media moments.
1. May the 4th
Every year, on May 4, Star Wars fans celebrate one of the most recognizable sci-fi franchises of all time. Why May 4? StarWars.com explains: “Say ‘May the 4th Be With You’ out loud and you’ll hear the pun that Star Wars fans worldwide have turned into a rallying cry to proclaim their love of the saga. It’s a worldwide day to say ‘May the Force be with you’ to all, and celebrate the beloved Star Wars story that binds our galaxy together.”
— Star Wars (@starwars) May 4, 2015
The earliest known usage of the phrase in pop culture was in 1979—two short years after the first film of the saga arrived in theatres—when Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female prime minister. Author Alan Arnold wrote: “To celebrate their victory her party took a half page of advertising space in the London Evening News. This message, referring to the day of victory, was ‘May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.’ Further proof of the extent to which Star Wars has influenced us all.”
Of course, this geek holiday has gained immense traction on the internet. In recent years, brands have also gotten in on the fun, referencing the dark side, cracking galactic puns, and making liberal use of Yoda-speak. Twitter users come together each year with the hashtags #Maythe4th, #MaytheFourth, and #StarWarsDay.
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) May 4, 2014
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) May 4, 2014
— Greenpeace UK (@GreenpeaceUK) May 4, 2015
— albertaNDP (@albertaNDP) May 4, 2015
Thinking of jumping on the #Maythe4th trend (or one of the other many offbeat holidays celebrated on social media)? Check out our blog post So You Want to Jump on a Social Media Trend? Learn the Rules First.
2. Teasers and trailer premiere
When the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released online, the Internet collectively freaked out. After initial announcements that it would debut in select theaters, Disney yielded to fan pressure and shared the 88-second trailer online in November 2014.
It received a record-breaking 88 million views in the first 24 hours and the fan response was huge. We even wrote a blog about three social media marketing lessons we learned from the new Star Wars trailer.
— Star Wars (@starwars) April 19, 2015
Then, in April 2015, the franchise banked hard on nostalgia with the release of a second teaser featuring Han Solo and Chewbacca and the now infamous line, “Chewie we’re home.” Graham Milne wrote in the Huffington Post that those three little words were “a clarion call to uncounted legions of dreamers, young and old alike, waiting in what often seemed merely vain hope for thirty-two long years. We’d seen the Falcon fly in the first teaser, but this was different. This was an affirmation of something we’d long been told was never going to happen. This was a gift. Faith rewarded.”
The reaction was swift. “The hashtag #Chewiewerehome was rapidly adopted by fans on Twitter while #StarWars was soon a top trending subject on the social media site as anticipation for the movie, due out on December 18, went into overdrive,” wrote Business Insider. In addition to making a splash with their initial teaser trailer releases, Disney made serious waves with an Instagram teaser trailer in August 2015. The 12-second video debuted precious seconds of new footage, yet fans still went wild. The teaser also showcased Instagram’s new wide screen video format. Posting the trailer to Instagram was a prime opportunity for the Star Wars franchise’s official social media accounts to bolster their follower count, according to Seth Porges at Forbes.
— The Force Awakens (@EpisodeVII) August 27, 2015
Then finally, there was the trailer that premiered at halftime of Monday Night Football in October 2015. From 4:48 p.m. until 7:48 p.m.—just prior to the trailer’s debut—#TheForceAwakens was mentioned 390,000 times on Twitter, according to Wired. Then, when the trailer began airing, Tweets per minute jumped from 3,800 to 17,000—the equivalent of 30 percent of the buzz of the entirety of May 4 (which generated 1.2 million Tweets this year).
Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega—who play new characters Rey and Finn in The Force Awakens—both posted video to Instagram of themselves watching and reacting to the trailer for the first time. Polygon shared a roundup of video reactions to the trailer, including Ridley and Boyega’s fantastic clips. Many fans were delighted to see that the stars of the film were just as excited as they were.
3. Force Friday
When the original Star Wars film was released in 1977, toymakers underestimated the demand for merchandise. Not so this time around. In an unprecedented move, Disney made the release of merchandise for Star Wars: The Force Awakens into a highly-anticipated event in its own right—a full three and a half months prior to the opening of the film. Fortune wrote, “U.S. toy experts say they’ve never seen a rollout of this magnitude.” The debut of the new merch took place on September 4, which was dubbed Force Friday. Disney live-streamed the unboxing of the new toys and other collectibles over the course of 18 hours in 15 cities and 12 countries, retailers opened their doors at midnight to let in the multitudes of eager fans (a tactic reminiscent of Harry Potter book releases), and encouraged fans to share their experience with the hashtag #ForceFriday. This generated an exceptional amount of excitement about the new products.
It was, pardon the pun, a marketing tour de force. Digital marketing firm Overdrive Interactive shared a great infographic that shows just how big a success Force Friday was on social media.
In a piece about the event, Force Friday: The Force Is Always With This Brand, Forbes quoted Martin Brochstein, SVP industry relations and information with the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association. He said: “This rollout is unique on several different levels. First of all, Disney has made the rollout of the consumer products into an event itself, almost separate from the film, by having the Force Friday promotion, with several retailers opening their doors at midnight, and the global streamed unboxing event on YouTube the day before. This is more akin to what would normally be done with a big film itself, or was done with the Harry Potter book launches, or with a new iPhone model.”
The new app-controlled BB-8 droid from Sphero quickly became a fan favorite as tons of Star Wars devotees uploaded videos of their own unboxings, BB-8 on patrol, and their pets meeting the orange and white mini-droid. Sphero has taken advantage of the toy’s popularity by creating a mini-series of sorts of the tiny droid’s adventures, featuring installments such as BB-8 and the Spiky Friend, BB-8 and the Leaves, and BB-8 and the Record Player.
Star Wars merchandise is expected to wrack up $1 billion in the U.S. and $5 billion worldwide, according to Forbes.
4. Force for Change
Star Wars Force for Change is a charity initiative that was launched during the production of The Force Awakens. Inspired by George Lucas’ philanthropy, Force for Change is a partnership between Disney, Lucasfilm, and Bad Robot (The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams’ production company). The program, which included initiatives like #ArtAwakens, raised $4.26 million for UNICEF Innovation Labs, according to Entertainment Weekly. Donors were given the opportunity to win a walk-on role in the movie, complete with makeup and costume. Any eligible donor who pledged $10 or more was entered into the draw.
In November 2015, Harrison Ford announced a new fundraising campaign through Omaze. This time 15 different charities benefited from funds raised and fans were given the chance to win four tickets to the Los Angeles or London premiere of the film. Force for Change did several viral stunts to promote the campaign. One of the more notable was when they had Harrison Ford surprise fans during a video chat in November.
Then in December they sent Mark Hamill undercover as a Stormtrooper on Hollywood Boulevard.
5. Force for Daniel
Force for Daniel was a fan-lead campaign rallying Disney to let terminally ill superfan Daniel Fleetwood see Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead of its theatrical release.
After much support on social—some from the cast and crew of the film—Disney screened “an unedited version” of the new film for Fleetwood. He died just days after being granted his final wish, according to Deadline.
6. Partnerships and tie-ins
While marketing directly from Disney for the new Star Wars film has been huge, the studio also partnered with a bunch of other companies for special campaigns and promotions. Unusual tie-ins included Covergirl’s Star Wars Collection and an Awaken Your Force contest from Hewlett Packard reports TIME, as well as a series of ads from Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Fiat (covered in AdAge) and, interestingly, special edition Coffee-Mate creamers (fans are encouraged to collect all five). Among the most prominent partnerships were Target’s Share the Force campaign and Google’s Awaken the Force Within campaign.
Share the Force
Target’s Share the Force campaign capitalized on fan sentiment. It features lots of cross-promotion across multiple platforms, according to marketing blog Deacon Illustrated, all using the hashtag #SharetheForce. The campaign launched with a nostalgia-heavy video filled with retro snapshots alongside modern-day video clips of fans enjoying Star Wars. Kristina Monllos wrote in AdWeek that “such rampant consumerism doesn’t always have to be part of The Dark Side. There’s a heart-warming joy and gleeful nostalgia to unwrapping Star Wars toys, which have been favorites of children across three generations… While it’d be easy to take a cynical view of the spot—that Target and Lucasfilm are exploiting or pandering to our emotional connections with the franchise—the reality is that the spot simply works.”
User-generated content is at the forefront of Share the Force, particularly in Target’s interactive microsite where fans can upload their own Star Wars memories, such as photos and videos. The memories will be archived at Lucasfilm. Users are also asked to find their place in the galaxy by choosing a favorite character, which they are then prompted to share on social media. The campaign was created by Deutsch L.A. The agency’s creative director, Janet Higdon, explained to AdWeek: “We looked at the landscape of what people are doing around Star Wars and we realized that people are talking about the film and [the merchandise] but no one was really talking about this huge emotional connection that we all have to [the merchandise].”
Rick Gomez, senior VP of marketing at Target told AdAge: “Target has been part of the legion of Star Wars fans since the franchise began, and we aim to create a program that captured the passion that fans of all ages have for Star Wars by inviting them to archive their own Star Wars memories. It’s something only Target can deliver and we hope fans will love it.” In addition to the microsite and videos, Target’s Share the Force campaign included cross-promotion on other social channels, such as a branded Share the Force Snapchat filter, available in Target stores on Force Friday.
The entire campaign was promoted using the concise, easy to remember hashtag #SharetheForce, which fans have been using to share Star Wars memories new and old—including Target-specific Star Wars moments.
Awaken the Force Within
For as long as Star Wars has been in existence, fans have argued over what’s better: the dark side or the light side. Google has taken the intergalactic battle one step further with their Awaken the Force Within campaign, prompting fans to “Choose Your Side.” Once a Google user pledges their allegiance to either “The Light Side” or “The Dark Side,” Google will transform their Google experience across Google apps such as Gmail, Google Maps, and others.
And, in a long history of great search engine easter eggs—go ahead, type “Do a barrel roll” or “Find Chuck Norris” into Google search, I’ll wait—Google has created a hidden Star Wars search treat. Simply type “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away,” into Google and voila, your search results will appear in yellow type on a black background in the iconic crawl that has opened each film set in a galaxy far far away.
7. Twitter Emoji
Twitter capitalized on fan excitement over the upcoming film by introducing Star Wars emoji that would attach themselves to a corresponding hashtag. They first revealed them in April—in time for May the 4th. They made a return for Force Friday in September, then again in October.
— Star Wars (@starwars) October 18, 2015
Suffice to say they were used. A lot.
Bonus: Volkswagen’s ‘The Force’ Super Bowl ad
Okay, so this one’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s too good to skip mentioning. Way back in 2011, Volkswagen rocked the Super Bowl with a fun spoof of Star Wars that would soon become one of the most viral ads of all time. Titled “The Force,” the ad featured a young boy dressed as Darth Vader trying to use the force to control things around the house. His efforts receive little success until he comes upon the family’s Volkswagen Passat, which magically comes to life (as his father uses the remote).
The ad was funny and endearing, a winning combination. Volkswagen released it on YouTube the Wednesday before the Superbowl.
In January 2015, Josh Sanburn explained in TIME article The Ad That Changed Super Bowl Commercials Forever, that conventional wisdom of the time (ever since Super Bowl ads rose to a level of importance rivalling the football game itself in the early 1980s) was to keep ads under tight wraps until their game time debut. Volkswagen was under pressure due to big player rivals with more ad dollars to spend. Sanburn wrote: “So they decided that one possible way to stand out was to release ‘The Force’ early, even though it defied what was widely accepted as smart advertising strategy around the biggest ad day of the year.”
That decision was a runaway success. One day after it was posted to YouTube, the ad had 1.8 million views. By kickoff, that number had jumped to 17 million. The ad remains the most shared Super Bowl ad of all time and the second most shared TV commercial ever, according to TIME.
Since then, Super Bowl ads have “become the anchors of extended marketing campaigns with vast social media presences often launched weeks before the game.”
In short, “The Force” was a game changer.