Star Wars fans with time on their hands can soon tune in to an 18-hour commercial for their beloved fantasy space brand. Disney is set to launch a galactic-sized unveiling of new toys tied to its upcoming Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, live on YouTube.
The massive campaign comes as no surprise these days as toys tied to blockbuster movies have become every marketer's dream.
The marathon event will start on Thursday in Sydney, Australia, unboxing the first toy at 7:45 a.m. local time. More merchandise will be unveiled as the roll-out travels to 14 other cities, including Toronto, more than 15 hours later.
Participating stores will then open at midnight this Friday so Star Wars fans can immediately binge on new products.
No recession in toy business
No doubt, the social media onslaught will help further bolster the already booming retail toy business in Canada. "It's very healthy," notes Michelle Liem with The NPD Group.
The market research company predicts Canadian toy sales will jump by 7.3 per cent this year, pumping an extra $125 million into the industry.
Liem says a major driving force is content like TV shows and hit movies which then spawn a line of related merchandise.
"More and more toy companies are really seeing that, the popularity of content and how it really engages their consumer and helps to build that toy business," says Liem, who is director of NPD's toy business unit in Canada.
Toy story lives on in cyberspace
Movie-related toys can be lucrative because of their potential to keep selling long after a film finishes its run in theatres. Gone are the days when a hit movie premieres, toys sell and then the fanfare dies down.
Now, a company can continue to keep the film and interest alive online — offering related games, videos and a presence on social media.
"Any time you can connect the dots between the toy and the digital experience, really seems to take it to a whole new level because it really just immerses the children in the brand," says Liem
She points to the wildly popular Disney movie, the animated musical fantasy, Frozen. It has spawned a massive line of products including the popular Snow Queen Elsa dolls.
Last month, Walt Disney Co. said its quarterly earnings rose in part due to the continued popularity of merchandise related to the film — which debuted in 2013.
"Disney is really good at continuing to provide more content around the movie, after the movie has left. For example, they still have videos online that continue to reinforce the [Frozen] story," says Liem.
Star Wars saturation?
Liem points to Star Wars as another example of an evergreen movie franchise where fans never lose interest. The last Star Wars themed film,The Clone Wars, premiered in 2008 but toy sales remain strong.
Mindy Terrington from Windsor, Ont., and her four children are big collectors.
"We went through a phase when we first got into Star Wars where I went on eBay and I back-collected most of the galactic heroes. So we can act out most of the movies now with the small characters," she explains.
When Star Wars Lego started selling theme-related planets, Terrington helped her 10-year-old son, Theo, built a galaxy above his bed.
"We hung the planets and the vehicles with see-through string so that when he lies in his bed, he has the entire Star Wars universe — what they've produced so far — hanging over his head."
Theo, who sports a 25-centimetre-long Padawan hair braid — worn by Jedi knights in training — says he finds plenty to keep him interested.
He first got hooked by watching the movies on DVD and then started following Star Wars on Instagram after he discovered it was full of photos of popular characters. "I got really excited because I saw stuff that I don't really get to see in just the films."
He also watches videos of the related cartoon series, The Clone Wars.
"What I like about the show is it tells you more about what happens in between the time of the different [films]. They're so entertaining."
He has also played Star Wars games online and watches movie clips on YouTube, including sneak peeks of the upcoming film.
"I know a little bit of what's going to happen," he says.
The latest Star Wars flick, The Force Awakens, doesn't hit theatres for more than three months, on Dec. 18.
This time, Disney is trying to drive toy sales even before the movie premieres by showcasing its toys in its blockbuster event on Thursday.
Terrington questions the early strategy— at least for children.
"I think the kids need to see the movie to have an attachment to the new characters," says the mother of four who remains lukewarm about the event. She believes the toys unveiled will pale in comparison to "the characters that they already have an affinity for."
While theme-related merchandise may live on long past a movie's run these days, it remains to be seen if companies can start cashing in even before a film's release.
While Terrington remains skeptical, her son Theo is feeling the power of the force and suggests he just might want those new toys right away.