There’s a classic Bill Hicks routine which states that as soon as you appear in a commercial for a product, you are removed from the artistic cannon forever. And I struggle to think of a time when applying that role would have caused me to miss out on something particularly great – although the age-old tradition of celebrities popping up in seemingly random adverts in countries like Japan mean they may be some examples.
But what happens when the stars aren’t human, but characters in a story which has become immensely popular and adopted by millions around the world with their own passionate interpretations and fandom? OK, so we should probably be used to this by now, judging by the way this particular story has been used, exploited and hollowed-out for every possible revenue stream, but still…
So the character whose entrance into a rebel ship inspired fear and nightmares in generations of people is now a middle-management consultant to a chain of average computer retailers.
And then this happens…
If you remember all those strange people around the world who declare themselves as a Jedi whenever a census appears, a reasonable percentage of them aren’t doing it entirely as a joke – there’s enough evidence online of the Jedi mindset being compared to a more recognised religion. Without debating the merits of each religion, this is essentially like seeing the head of whichever version you follow decide to start pimping themselves out for commercials.
I’m done with Star Wars…
I don’t remember the first time I watched Star Wars, but I do remember a friend actually having a film projector at an early birthday party to screen The Empire Strikes Back. And whilst my collection of toys was sold by my father without my knowledge when I was a teenager, thus destroying a potential retirement fund, I’ve since discovered that my Star Wars lunchbox still survives in a dusty corner of the garage. And I do have the original trilogy on VHS just so I could show my son that Han fired first, just as it should be.
But that’s balanced with the fact I don’t expect every piece of entertainment to be an artistic statement, the history of merchandising and utilising the Star Wars world to extract every last penny from it, and the fact various adverts have appeared in the past with some of the characters – I’ve discovered Yoda apparently also picked up a cheque for a Japanese advert a while ago, like so many other stars.
I’m in my 30s, I’ve worked in the publishing and entertainment industries for 10+ years, and I know how all this works – and yet I feel a sense of loss with the resignation. One of the guiding stories of my childhood, which I wanted to share with my son as he grows older, has now lost any magic it had. It’s no more meaningful than whichever animated feature will be on the side of Happy Meals next month.
Marketing with listening and meaning:
If you’re one of the growing number of companies embracing the approach of standing clearly for a defined purpose, then you might believe you’re above this risk.
And if you’re just in the business of churning out a product, perhaps an unexciting one, then you might believe it doesn’t matter.
But the important thing is that I don’t think George Lucas and everyone else involved had set out to make a serious artistic statement which could spring into a belief and support which has last 30+ years. He made some films, and realised that there was more money to be made around them than directly from them – particularly pre-VHS, DVD and Streaming.
The meaning and experiences came from the people who watched,shared, discussed, and believed – would you know if the same thing was growing around your brand? Are you not only monitoring but paying attention, analysing, listening and shaping your future in that context?