May The Merchandise Be With You!

There is one entertainment property on everyone’s lips today. Star Wars. This entertainment monolith launches midnight screenings tomorrow night and is already receiving glowing reviews from Hollywood press after special showings. But after paying $4.1 billion for the franchise from Lucasfilm, Disney has their eyes on a different stage of the customer journey.

Star Wars

It isn’t a coincidence that Disney decided to hold their biggest movie launch for the end of the year. It builds incredible anticipation as small secrets are revealed. Word of mouth goes viral online with fans discussing many possible directions. And, most importantly, it hits the shelves just in time for the merchandise to disappear off the shelf for Christmas!

That is where Disney is focused for this latest Star Wars release . . . merchandise.

I’m not saying that they aren’t worried about the film. The last twenty four hours would have involved many very nervous executives and artistic professionals hoping that their film would be received positively by critics and fans to continue the legacy. And the quality of the film is a crucial lynchpin in the future success of the franchise. But a strong focus still sits with merchandise.

Back in October 2012 when Disney bought Lucasfilm for a significant sum of $4.1 billion, many were surprised at the great monetary length Disney would go to secure this company. The last Star Wars film only raked in a princely sum of $848 million in box office revenue and it would take five of these box office hits before the company earnt back its investment. But then there is merchandise . . .

Analysts are expecting the first film alone to generate $5 billion in official Star Wars merchandise sales. Christmas will be a fantastic contributor to this figure with many bamboozled relatives looking for an easy gift. But many fans will also be hitting the shops themselves to pick up a lightsaber, their favourite plush or one of the seemingly infinite products brandishing a Star Wars character.

It is the power of merchandise which earnt Lucasfilm obscene amounts of money during the original six movie series which only generated $4.4 billion in box office sales but gained an estimated $32 billion from merchandise.

But is the Star Wars legacy any different to merchandise in the theatre? No.

There is a reason why Star Wars sells so much merchandise. Its stories resonate with audiences so strongly that they are compelled to walk away from the experience with a memento. A tangible expression of the fantastic intangible experience. It doesn’t matter if it is an expensive Star Wars figurine or a novelty cup. It is a physical reminder of the wonderful experience. And theatre does exactly the same thing . . .

Are you a program purchaser? Most people who go to the theatre take the time to purchase a program. Not out of convention, but because they can’t take the experience they have had home with them and they need a physical reminder of their experience. In fact, a program is even stronger than any plush merchandise. Featuring information and scenes from the performance, audiences get to relive their experience on the trip home, a descriptive tool to communicate why their friends need to buy a ticket and a great memento to pull out in the future and relive the memories.

Merchandise is an incredibly powerful tool if used properly. While a piece of theatre may not have the same long-running resonance as the Star Wars franchise, it is able to provide immense value in different ways encouraging audiences to relive their experience. So, just like Star Wars is hoping will happen with the stuffed Wookie on your shelf, catching a glimpse of theatre merchandise could play a crucial role in bringing your audience back in next time a similar show comes to town!