Marketing by Mariana Tugulea

This commentary piece will examine the ways digital technology has affected film marketing by making references to the Star Wars franchise. In addition to this, the essay will outline the issues of film marketing, as well as explain and evaluate the effectiveness of digital, implicitly traditional marketing. The time period this piece will reflect is between 1990s and the 2010s. It will show my own opinion as well as address the implication of the digital change in film marketing for film producers and consumers. In addition, the essay will show how marketing strategies have changed over the years (due to technology) using the history of Star Wars.

“Film marketing as a field of practice and an academic discipline is a contentious area in finding ways to sell things to people that they don’t want or need.”[1] The main aim of marketing is to gain a mass audience in the cinemas and to get as many consumers to make use of media synergy in order for the film to make as much profit as possible. Film marketing is divided in many categories, but this essay will evaluate the two main ones: traditional and digital marketing.[2]

Throughout the middle of the 20th century, films were mainly marketed in the traditional way. Posters and word of mouth were the primary methods of promoting a film.[3] A successful marketing was based on a solid word of mouth as well as on how strong the image portrayed on the poster was. In the present day however, word of mouth and posters are just a head start in the marketing campaign; this is due to the impact digital technology has had on film marketing in the last 26 years. “According to Johnston (2008), trailers are now easily transferred from one technological medium to another, allowing consumers to view/share trailers while on the move.”[4] For example, the marketing strategies for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) are different to the ones for Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015). Episode I was looking more at the box office itself to make profit, rather than making use of merchandise to promote the film.[5] Of course, marketing really kicked off after the release of Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), but Episode I had a successful marketing campaign before its release mainly due to the original trilogy.

Both the prequel trilogy [The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), Revenge of the Sith (2005)], and Episode VII (sequel trilogy) made use of digital marketing. The two marketing campaigns had contracts signed with different companies such as Pepsi, Taco Bell, Burger King, etc. and produced TV commercials. [6] These commercials were part of the digital campaign and helped market the films as they were convincing consumers to buy a meal in order to get a ‘free’ toy, Star Wars cups, Pepsi cans, etc. In addition to this, traditional marketing strategies were also used. Word of mouth was a very successful technique for the prequels, as well as the latest episode as the previously released films encouraged people to spread the word about the latest movies. This helped producers market the films free of charge. Corporate synergy was used for the prequel trilogy too, as people could buy The Phantom Mascot. Not only this traditional strategy made profit for the films as well as marketed them, but it also used word of mouth through people.

On the other hand, Episode VII makes more use of digital marketing. Firstly, one of the trailers is longer, of a higher quality and includes more technical/graphic elements. The digital marketing campaign also includes a version of Google which allows users to play a Star Wars game. Snippets were also released in addition to the two initial trailers in order to enhance the digital marketing campaign, which Episode I did not do.

Throughout 1990s and 2010s, Web 2.0 advanced drastically in terms of film advertising and therefore digital technology massively impacted film marketing. Consumers can now watch trailers for any film via converged technologies, which helps to market a film more and better, as users can utilize their devices any time. Another positive aspect about digital film marketing is the use of social media. Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. help market Episode VII (as well as other films) by posting various videos, statuses and pages that are dedicated to the film. This digital promotional strategy markets the film and triggers digital word of mouth as users are encouraged to share the content. The disadvantage of this technique however, is that social media users can unlike film pages or even unfollow/block any sponsored advertisements.

Traditional marketing also has its advantages and disadvantages. Prints, such as billboard and bus posters cannot be ‘blocked’, because consumers will inevitably see them; this marketing category successfully promoted the Star Wars prequels, which led to gaining a mass audience. The negative aspect is that the images presented had to portray a strong meaning that had a relatively big impact on consumers’ perspective of the film, in order to persuade them to share the information received. In addition, traditional marketing gains a passive audience, as consumers cannot directly interact with print advertisements, but digital marketing encourages them to get involved in promoting the film.

Furthermore, film marketing requires monetary investment regardless of whether it is traditional or digital. For example, The Force Awakens makes use of cross-media convergence – the franchise had a contract with Walt Disney Co. as “both parties seen an opportunity to make money”. [7] Disney Infinity: 3.0 was Star Wars themed, action figures and colouring books were produced which helped market the latest episode aiming at the younger audience as well as adults. [8]

Costumes, word of mouth, posters, toys, and even DVDs are all part of the traditional marketing. Trailers, soundtracks that can be bought online, as well as social media are a few methods used in terms of digital marketing. The bigger the budget, the bigger the marketing campaign – this is clearly reflected in the history of the Star Wars film marketing. However, both strategies have positive and negative aspects. The ultimate change that digital technology has had on marketing is that film makers with low/no budget can market their films using Web 2.0. However, a strong traditional marketing campaign is also needed in order to market the film at a bigger scale and gain a mass audience rather than a niche one.




AMES, E. and SOAT, M. (2015) How Star Wars Changed Film Marketing Forever. American Marketing Association, 16th Dec. Available from: [Accessed 26/04/16].

BALIO, T. (2013) Ancillary Markets: Shattering Windows. In: BALIO, T., Hollywood in the New Millennium. 1st ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan on behalf of the British Film Institute, pp. 101-113.

FRITZ, B. (2015) ‘Star Wars’ Carries Its Own Marketing Weight for Disney. The Wall Street Journal, 7th Dec. Available from: [Accessed 26/04/16].

KERRIGAN, F. (2010) Film Marketing. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Butterworth- Heinemann, Boston, MA.

MCCOLUMNS, D. (2015) Star Wars and the Force Behind Their Marketing Campaign. TECH.CO, 24th Nov. Available from: [Accessed 25/04/16].

PAWLUS, A. (2010) 10 Ways Star Wars: Episode I Was Literally Shoved Down Your Throat. The Robot’s Voice, 5th Aug. Available from: [Accessed 25/04/16].

RUSSELL, J. (2012) Star Wars: Why Disney was destined to buy Lucasfilm. The Guardian, 31st Oct. Available from: [Accessed 26/04/16].

WYATT, J. and SCHATZ, T.G. (1994) High Concept Movies and Marketing in Hollywood. 1st ed. Austin: University of Texas Press.




[1] Finola Kerrigan, ‘Chapter 1 Introduction’, in Film Marketing, (Amsterdam: Butterworth – Heinemann, Boston, MA, 2010), 3-11, (p.3).

[2] Traditional marketing = refers to any type of promotion, advertising or campaign. Methods can include print advertisements, such as newsletters, billboards, flyers and newspaper print ads.
Digital marketing = the marketing of products/services using digital channels to reach consumers.

[3] Justin Wyatt and Thomas G. Schatz, ‘Marketing the Image: High Concept and the Development of Marketing, in High Concept Movies and Marketing in Hollywood, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), (p. 130).

[4] Finola Kerrigan, ‘Chapter 10 The Impact of Technology on Film Marketing Practices’, in Film Marketing, (Amsterdam: Butterworth – Heinemann, Boston, MA, 2010), 194-206, (p.200).

[5] Eden Ames and Molly Soat, ‘How Star Wars Changed Film Marketing Forever’, American Marketing Association (AMA 2015) <> [accessed 26 April 2016].

[6] Adam Pawlus, ’10 Ways Star Wars: Episode I Was Literally Shoved Down Your Throat, The Robot’s Voice (therobotsvoice 2010) <> [Accessed 25 April 2016].

[7] James Russell, ‘Star Wars: Why Disney was destined to buy Lucasfilm’, The Guardian (The Guardian 2012) <> [accessed 26 April 2016].

[8] Ben Fritz, ‘’Star Wars’ Carries Its Own Marketing Weight for Disney’, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ 2015) <> [accessed 26 April 2016].


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