• Merchandise and movies

The Merchandise is Strong With This One.

23 December 2015


What is this Christmas you speak of?

This December, there is only Star Wars.


In the build-up and release of the long-anticipated Episode 7: The Force Awakens, everything else has been eclipsed by a distinctly Death Star – shaped shadow.

The anticipation levels have been through the roof, especially since the September launch of official licensed merchandise from franchise owners Disney.

Not to mention the 18 hour live unboxing event on Youtube.

It’s been a masterclass in generating hype – not that the millions of fans needed an excuse to pre book tickets – and has culminated in potentially record-smashing box office returns of $14 million on its first day alone in European markets.

How much has this been down to licensed merchandise?

Well, it certainly hasn’t hurt as an extra revenue stream, for a start.

Of course Star Wars has sold a Corellian freighter’s worth of licensed products. It’s Star Wars.

Sure, the likes of Death Star waffle makerslightsabre fishing rods and Wookie Crocswould only be snapped up by the biggest fans, or bought as gifts from misguided grandmothers.

But the franchise has amassed a licensing empire worth $18 billion in toys, books, video games and other licensed products since the first film hit cinemas in 1977.

Considering the 16 year drought between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, the extended universe media and products have carried the Star Wars name and then some.

This is where merchandise has the potential to prop up the brand name, during a long hiatus between main releases.

Look at Toy Story.

Toy Story 3 came out in 2010, 11 years after the second, and before the third film was released, global retail sales were at $9 billion.

Disney CEO Bob Iger pointed to this as a major reason for going ahead with the third film, and that it demonstrated that the “wonderful characters are clearly just as relevant and beloved as ever.”

While the original Cars didn’t do as well as Pixar had hoped, the merchandise behind it brought in $10 billion in global sales and played a big part in the decision to make the second one.


Strong, the power of merchandising is.

It can add extra shelf life to a film or TV series, pointing extra people back to the original source material long after its initial release.

It can also provide a valuable cog in the hype machine, to build anticipation for upcoming releases.

It’s the same reason you see beer labels doing their own branded table toppers, coasters and glasses.

Why you see companion apps for brands such as Nike, Starbucks, and Amazon, to keep you updated and generate excitement for an upcoming release.

However, while they perform the same broad role, it’s difficult to class these as pure works of ‘merchandise’.

And that’s where the idea of merchandise being used ahead of a release falls apart, particularly a film or TV series with an unknown name and concept.


Searching for tangible examples of merchandise contributing to awareness before a launch has been difficult, and there’s an obvious reason for this.

That’s simply not the point of merchandise.

They capitalise on an already existing fan base, to provide something extra that adds something to a franchise fans want more of.

For those who buy branded merchandise, it’s about digging deeper into a world they are already invested in.

Why would they buy any merchandise based on something they haven’t seen yet or aren’t interested in?

That’s where advertising comes into play, along with all the challenges that accompany trying to get your product in front of an audience who don’t know anything about it but might just be interested in it.

Brand awareness.

Without that, or without your merchandised goods standing on their own feet and providing a use apart from simply spreading the name, consumers simply won’t buy.

It has to be of some use to consumers, be of interest or entertain them first and foremost.

Whether it’s related to an upcoming movie, TV series or piece of media is secondary.

But if it works on its own, then you’ve already started building up a good reputation for that title, and you’ve begun to assert good associations with that name that will stick with the consumer when the main event arrives.

Does merchandise work as a tool for building awareness, and generating hype?

Sure. If you have an already established name out there.

It can be a fantastic way to gauge audience demand for an existing franchise, and to tide fans over in the (sometimes long) wait for a follow up.

But to launch something brand new, never before seen, it’s best to start walking before you can run.

Or, to put it in more seasonal terms- don’t get cocky, kid.