Last week at the Brave Dog office, we got a special treat. Since we’re located at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, we had a front-row seat to watch the setup for the gala premiere of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” including its awesome full-sized X-Wing fighter prop.
With “Rogue One” opening tomorrow across the country, we’ve been taking a look at how this year’s “Star Wars” film — undoubtedly poised to be one of the biggest of 2016 — has taken its approach to marking. The major difference: “Rogue One” has been willing to take a more traditional tack with things like trailers ahead of the film, as opposed to “The Force Awakens,” last year’s movie, which was shrouded in secrecy.
The two approaches present an interesting conundrum for marketers trying to show “Star Wars” fans and moviegoers why they should be excited for “Rogue One.” On the one hand, “The Force Awakens” kept many of its mysteries before launch, which was great for the “no spoilers” crowd, particularly among fans — but it also struggled to show much of what the movie would be like, apart from being a return to “Star Wars.” On the other, “Rogue One” has shown much more about its story in trailers, which can aggravate fans. But with trailer that have shown viewers some of the more exciting scenes from the movie, it’s poised to grab the second-best December opening in history.
It’s true that as social media has picked up across the Internet, movie-goers, especially those fans of big-budget franchises like “Star Wars,” have become more terse about what they see about a movie before they actually see the movie. Reviews across the Internet for “Rogue One” have come in clearly delineated “no spoiler” varieties, and fans who find out more than they bargained for are quick to complain. Many marketers are walking a tightrope: how do you sell a film without saying too much about it?
With “Rogue One,” part of what might be the solution has been to show footage in trailers that actually hasn’t made it into the movie. As some journalists have reported, big swathes of the final action sequence, shown prominently in trailers, are actually only shown in trailers. To some degree, that helps Disney market the movie without giving away exactly what will be on screen in the theater. But at the same time, that presents a new risk, begging the question of whether fans and viewers will be let down when they expect to see a great scene from marketing in the context of the movie, and it never arrives.
The “mystery box” approach, a term coined by Director J.J. Abrams, isn’t without its perils, too. When you hold back too much information about the movie, it becomes much harder to sell. With a story like “Rogue One,” which is set before the original 1977 “Star Wars” film and tells the story of how a team of Rebels managed to steal the Death Star plans, a plot point that kicked off the entire franchise, the problem gets tougher to solve. Outside of “Star Wars” superfans, it’s tough to say how many people will tune in for “Rogue One” if they know only minimal information about it. “Rogue One” isn’t in the main “Star Wars” film series, but is rather an offshoot movie telling a side story about other characters. It’s Disney’s first of an anthology of such “Star Wars” movies, focusing on what else is going on in the franchise’s universe.
Without the story of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa to drive the movie, viewers automatically know much less about it. The job of marketers is to make them care about a new crop of characters in another section of the “Star Wars” galaxy. So it seems appropriate to share more info in marketing.
But as mentioned, it’s a tightrope. Disney is in the precarious position of having millions of “Star Wars” fans to please, and even more millions of viewers who are much more casual about the series. “Rogue One” is both a “Star Wars” movie, with everything that that entails, and a holiday season blockbuster that needs to attract more than the die-hards.
At the end of the day, though, it seems like “Rogue One” is proving that the more liberal approach with information about the movie, long the standard for Hollywood marketing, still might be the best one. Disney and fans are both right not to want to hear too much about the movie ahead of time — it’s always better to be surprised — but not knowing enough about a movie like “Rogue One” is probably worse.
But marketers and trailer creators have to be very careful, and probably very tuned-in with fans, in the new climate of social sharing, easily accessible (and accidental) spoilers, and increased discussion about their products. Great trailers don’t give viewers the whole meal, but just a taste or an appetizer to tease movie-goers about what’s to come. The marketing of “Rogue One” has nailed that very specific position, with some awesome trailers. And Disney has done well to tease the movie out in other ways, like a virtual reality experience created for the PlayStation VR headset, to go with the “Star Wars” video game “Star Wars: Battlefront.” Disney has a lot of avenues to give “Star Wars” fans exactly as much “Rogue One” as they want or need — and when it comes to marketing of such a beloved franchise, giving fans options without forcing too much information on them is the perfect approach.