Disney is turning its launch of new "Star Wars" merchandise—a full 3½ months before the release of "The Force Awakens"—into a new kind of retail holiday.
Dubbing the Sept. 4 merchandise launch "Force Friday" (the "fourth" be with you, get it?), Disney has a range of major retailers—and YouTube stars from its Maker Studios acquisition—on board to appeal to collectors and a new generation of fans.
Analysts are calling this an "unprecedented global merchandising campaign." The event "has the potential to meaningfully accelerate the division's revenue and profit growth," said JPMorgan analyst Alexia Quadrani. She projects a 200 percent increase in "Star Wars" global licensing and retail store sales and said it could lead to roughly $500 million in incremental revenues and $200 million of incremental operating profit in Disney's fiscal 2016.
Marty Brochstein, SVP at the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association, said the way Disney's launching its products gives it "two bites at the apple. The business around Force Friday is going to be aimed primarily at collectors and long-time fans who want to have the newest, the latest, the greatest, and be the first in line. ... The more traditional kids and movie-oriented business will take place closer to when the movie opens."
To introduce a new generation to "Star Wars," Disney is turning to YouTube, and its Maker Studios acquisition. Disney's giving its more popular Maker stars movie merchandise to open and check out live on the "Star Wars" YouTube channel, in the day-and-a-half leading up to "Force Friday."
Disney is tapping into the huge trend of "unboxing" videos—responsible for 18 of the top 100 YouTube channels and over 8 billion views on YouTube in the first quarter. Disney is also looking to make the most of its $1 billion acquisition of Maker Studios, at a time when it's under scrutiny after losing two senior executives and facing questions about its failure to meet certain growth goals.
If Disney's strategy works, it will give Maker a boost—introducing a legion of fans to Maker stars and content. And it will get Maker's young followers—who are harder to target with traditional TV ads—hooked on the franchise.
Brochstein said the only risk is overdoing the promotional push: "What everybody's trying to do is play into the passion that's already there, maximize that passion, but then not cross that line to where everybody feels that they're being manipulated and forced into something."
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Marty Brochstein's correct title.