My little children are getting into Star Wars. For someone who was brought up in the 70s and 80s this is an intense joy.
To misquote a couple of lines from Fever Pitch, there isn't anything that many people have loved for over thirty years as consistently as some people my age have loved Star Wars.
If anyone needs to learn how to earn disproportionate attention and measure of loyalty from people, looking at Star Wars is actually a good place to start. Both in terms of what to do do, and what not. Not to mention the things you shouldn't bother to attempt.
- Create something totally jaw-droppingly different - the moment in a New Hope when the Star Destroyer first thunders onto the screen is not something they were ever able to repeat. The sheer shock and awe of it completely captured the imagination. It's the same with advertising these days, your first job is to get noticed.
- But don't think you'll ever create a Star Destroyer moment. An Old Spice guy comes around once a blue moon. In fact, so does a Star Destroyer moment. Movies that really succeed seer themselves in the collective psyche. Ads that succeed manage to get noticed and remembered for something.
- But stand on the shoulders of giants - George Lucas was smart and borrowed from World War 2 dog fights, Darth Vader's suits was based on Samurai armour.
- But if you don't engage the heart, forget it - arguably, there was more action, more effects, more everything in the 'prequels' but they're hated by most original fans because they forgot to put any relatable humanity, let alone a sense of humour.
- Never forget what you do best - because it was the characters that people loved. not just the shock and awe. The original characters were funny, has real relationships, you had Han Solo with a twinkle in his eye and feisty Princess Leia. Always build from what buyers already like about you, don't try and make it what YOU want it to be. A certain hair care brand I worked on desperately wanted people to love them as a fashion icon, when actually they loved as a brand that really understood women. By associating themselves with stick thin, sulky models they just put people off! If you are a brand and you lose your way, it's so much harder to come back. People were willing Star Wars to be good, no one REALLY wants a brand to reclaim it's former glory. That wasn't the case for WISPA before you mention it by the way, that was just a meme that took on a life of it's own.
- But challenge your audience - The Empire Strikes Back threw the first film back in our faces and let the bad guys in, not to mention the ultimate curve ball and created one of the biggest entertainment surprises ever -"Luke, I am your father".
- Keep your core but move with the times - JJ Abrams maybe went a bit too far with this. On top of very human characters, some great humour and icons like the Falcon, X Wings Tie fighters and whatever, you still got the unknown character on desert planet thrown into a quest by accident. You got the planer sized weapon they had to destroy at the end. But then again, you had the strong female lead to reflect how we live today, the vulnerable conflicted male lead, even the sad older characters reflecting on loss and what might have been.
- Don't be afraid to leave space for the audience - let's be clear, people want to work out who Rey's parents are, they don't want to work out what your ad is about, but the best work still let's the audience translate and work out stuff a little bit. We don't like culture spoon-fed anymore. No one really knew if Darth Vader was a robot or what in the first film, certainly in the first hour. It's more so these days - who the hell is Snoke? Where did Rey come from? How did Ren convert? La di dah.
- Create different levels for different buyers. I have never read a Star Wars book, but I'm interested enough to have found out the background on Palpatine's origins. Others have read hundreds of books, commented on forums, gone to conventions. Most of the money comes from a long tail of people who just watch the films and buy a few toys for their kids. Other kids will only use Star Wars characters on Disney Infinity. I don't totally buy the Byron Sharpe stuff that growth just comes from light buyers and that it's weak awareness. I also think it's about intense emotion that gets encoded into the memory - triggers that come up from the subconscious at the right time. You can get people to buy more if their frequency is really low, if you build emotional presence. I can't tell you really why Nike is different, but I can tell you it feels different and has come from years of emotional build up. Anyway, in both cases, aim for mass popularity, but enable folks to go further. In the case of the Force Awakens, the geeks (and semi geeks) went to the first showing and that sense of 'the hardcore fans like it, so it must be good enough to bother' meant the rest followed. Most brands simply feel okay to buy, much of that these days comes from seeing other people buying and following suit.
- Respect your audience. Let's be honest, lots of children liked the prequels, many liked Jar Jar Binks, but the overall discourse was that they weren't any good. George didn't care,"This is the story I want to tell". Sometimes when they say they want a faster horse, well, you should listen.
- Remove reasons not to buy. Star Wars rebels the cartoon is great, my kids loves it (to Evie the new movie is 'Star Wars Rebels the Force Awakens). The latest Clone Wars series is amazing, and amazingly builds on the prequels. In both cases you've got Darth Maul, who fans actually loved. Star Wars doing TV well should have been a no brainer, the increased revenue, the increased presence. Just as McDonalds needed to do salads and chicken to defend against health foods and KFC. Just as soft drinks need to diversify into sugar free and more adult versions to keep market share.