Why 'Star Wars' fans are the Jedis for brands

Fans dressed up as "Star Wars" character pose ahead of the European premiere of "Star Wars The Force Awakens" in central London on Dec. 16, 2015.
Justin Tallis | AFP | Getty Images

Terry Young has been preparing his family for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" for quite some time, even the members who are too young to comprehend the movies.

"I have an 18-month-old son, and he dressed up as Obi-Wan Kenobi for Halloween," Young said proudly. "He had the light saber and the whole nine yards." The seventh installment of the popular movie series opens across the U.S. on Friday.

Young, who is the CEO of marketing agency sparks & honey, fits exactly into the Gen X demographic that brands have been searching for. Companies are hoping that by latching onto the nostalgia and affinity for the Disney-owned sci-fi films, they'll have some of that passion rub off on their brand.

"You can connect yourself to 'Star Wars' and everyone in that generation grew up with it in some way or another," Young said. "It penetrated popular culture for more than a decade from the late 70s to the late 80s. The brand awareness is so high for that generation."

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A Nielsen study released in December found that "Star Wars" fans are more likely to be Gen Xers — who fall between the ages of 35 and 49 — compared to the average American population. It also discovered that "Star Wars" fans are more likely than the average U.S. resident to have an annual income of more than $70,000.

Though it is true that millennials make up the majority of the U.S. work force, the 60 million Generation Xers have the largest amount of spending power. A Shullman Pulse 2014 study showed that the group has 29 percent of estimated net worth dollars in the U.S. and 31 percent of total income dollars. Out of the "upscale" top 10 percent of Gen Xers, 36 percent had a household income of more than $250,000. Sixty-four percent had a personal net worth of more than $1 million.

"Gen X are at the peak of their earning potential," said Stewart Pratt, senior vice president of strategy and analysis at digital agency DigitasLBi. "They are entering the peak of their essential decision and brand preference power. And Gen Xers have the disposable income to spare as a group."

While the vast majority of the group were planning to save at least as much money as they did the year before, Gen Xers are willing to spend it. Two-thirds of the high-income Gen Xers were planning on traveling for pleasure this year. Half were planning on buying luxury products.

Which brings us back to "Star Wars." The fans, the Nielsen report found, spend more across the personal care, food, auto and technology categories than the average moviegoer. For every $73 the average American spends on cereal each year, "Star Wars" fans will spend $80. When it comes to snacks, for every $145, this group spends $156.

"Gen Xers are one of the last generations that still tends to have a preference for things over experiences," Pratt said.

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Then there's the fact that "Star Wars" fans, like Young, are more likely to have kids under the age of 18.

"There's something really magical happening," Young said. "This is a multigenerational entertainment vehicle. That's really where the power is. And, when you have a franchise that spans several decades and is multigenerational in the products that it creates, then the branding you create works on both sides."

"Star Wars" also resonates with women, who make the majority of the household decisions. Facebook said that in the 30 days leading to this opening week of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," 52 percent of the people talking about the film were women. Men tended to be more engaged, however, meaning they were more likely to post or comment about "Star Wars" content more often. It also discovered that while more millennials were talking about the movie, Gen X were the group most likely to have more interactions per person.

"Women in general in terms of their representation in gaming and sci-fi have been overlooked in terms of their contribution to the audience," DigitasLBi's Pratt said. "Females as a buying group are certainly like Gen X. They overindex in terms of their presence in the decision-making process and buying power. Eighty percent of the household decisions are made by women."

"Star Wars" gives brands a way to enter a conversation that it knows people are passionate about, Pratt said.

"You're not just looking for the ability to target or define yourself," he said. "You're looking for ways to identify and message people that really leverages and seizes onto that rite of passage. That way you have a right or permission to talk about something I'm heavily engaged with and be able to link into that passion."

Note: The story was updated to clarify the information from Shullman Pulse. Out of the top 10 percent of Gen Xers, 64 percent have a personal net worth of at least $1 million, not 64 percent of the whole demographic.