Is the Force With You?

  • JJ Hornblass
  • December 21, 2015
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x_wing_bike_r2d2When a movie pulls in more than $500 million over a single weekend, it is time to fire up the marketing team.

It doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter how — and as this post (shamelessly) evidences — just do something to leverage the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” mania.

To be sure, there are official product tie-ins. Here are just some:

But no financial services companies, despite the fact that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not just an exceptional movie (according to this viewer), but is the top movie event of the modern entertainment era.

Or is it a top promotional opportunity for financial services?

Tim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, argues that Star Wars “tie-in saturation” could be an issue.

How does a particular brand stand out with so many other products emblazoned with the Star Wars name and character images—especially if a product does not have a logical association with the movie, its theme, or images? …

[I]t comes down to relevancy and not stretching the plausibility of a product tie-in. Breakfast cereals, with a history of featuring icons from sports figures to cartoon characters, seem ripe for a Star Wars tie-in. (General Mills launched a Star Wars cereal with fruit-flavored light sabers, Yoda, R2D2, and Stormtroopers.) However, that same relevancy factor means we probably mean won’t ever see a high-end Star Wars tie-in, the likes of Tiffany or Rolex. In order to get the most out of a Star Wars tie-in, marketers need to unleash the force of this power brand to put their own products in the right light—without succumbing to the dark side of jumping on a branding bandwagon that does not produce returns.

Can financial services marketers do that? I think so, especially for major advertisers, but then again, I’m a Star Wars geek.

It is interesting that money and finances have little role in the Star Wars storyline. [Spoiler alert] Toward the beginning of the movie, the protagonist, a character named Rey, collects scrap metal not for money or “credits,” but for rehydratable bread. There is a theory going around how the evil Empire in the movie faces “an economic depression of astronomical proportions,” but that’s about as close to a “banking” angle in the whole Star Wars epoch.

But this seems to be just a cosmetic shortcoming. Consider what actress Elizabeth Banks told Ellen DeGeneres recently:

“The Hunger Games” star told Ellen DeGeneres during an appearance on her talk show Tuesday that her kids Magnus Mitchell, 3, and Felix, 4 — who she said are “very close” — are “obsessed with Darth Vader.”

“They’re all about Star Wars,” she says. “They don’t really know anything about Star Wars. I don’t know how Star Wars is doing it, but they’ve possessed my children.”

If that doesn’t merit a marketing tie in, I don’t know what does.

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JJ started the first iteration of Bank Innovation back in 2007, and has been working on it ever since. He also serves as President & Chief Executive Officer of Royal Media, Bank Innovation’s parent. He founded Royal in 1995 and oversees all aspects of the New York-based diversified media company. Prior to forming Royal, JJ was on the editorial staff of American Banker, the daily newspaper, and worked as an editor of a business magazine in Hong Kong. As a reporter and editor, he has won journalism awards from the National Press Foundation, Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Foundation, and the Reader’s Digest Foundation. He has a BS in Economics from Yeshiva University and a Master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was also a Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School of Banking. He lives in New York City with his wife, two daughters, and son. He counts among his accomplishments one New York City Marathon, two New York City Triathlons and the 2010 Father’s Day 5K, the first race he ever ran with his daughters. He can be reached at or 212-564-8972.

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