George Lucas invented something that at one point saved the film industry: licensing. He famously waived his fee as a director for Star Wars and agreed to own only the licensing rights. Rights that 20th Century Fox deemed worthless. These same rights have earned George Lucas a personal wealth of $3.2 billion according to Forbes magazine. Mr Lucas attached the Star Wars name to games, books, television series and collectables. It’s estimated that Star Wars fans have spent an approximate $40 billion on merchandise since 1977. Me including, as I cherish my Millennium Falcon and another 40 odd figurines, indeed, Han Solo’s spacecraft has pride of place in my living room. So why is it then that Mr Lucas decides that he needs more?
Now, I don’t want to sound like a naïve crusty who is against capitalism and all accumulation of wealth. I work in marketing for goodness sake! It is actually not George Lucas’ wealth I am concerned about, but how he is slowly killing the Star Wars brand through overexposure and ill-chosen partnerships. Although it has been almost 7 years since the last Star Wars film was released, the brand is still very much around us. Feel the force of a mobile internet plan or join the rebellion in an electrical retailer. No doubt the Star Wars endorsement is lucrative for brands like VW, Currys and Vodafone, who recently all have used Mr Lucas’ creations in their campaigns. Yet I wonder if all these partnerships are right for the Star Wars brand? The deal with for instance LEGO is a great fit since both brands share a sense of imagination or creativity, but how do the values of Vodafone match with Star Wars? Seeing too much of a good thing can make it turn into a bad thing.
The power of Star Wars should enable George Lucas to choose his licensing deals more carefully. He needs to not only build their brands, but also his own. As recently demonstrated, a marriage can go sour. VW The Dark Side was a campaign for Greenpeace. It is a well-executed spoof on VW’s ad where a little boy is testing his powers as Darth Vader on a VW Passat. It highlights VW’s opposition to cuts on CO2 emissions. No doubt harming VW more than Lucasfilm, it can’t have been a positive contributor to the brand either.
Jamie Oliver also famously suffered from overexposure about 10 years ago. Books, TV series, mugs, calendars – his chubby face was everywhere. He reinvented himself by finding a purpose. His mission of ‘good food education’ connected with people and set him apart from the other celebrity chefs. Jamie himself would probably admit that he is not the world’s best chef. Yet his love for food can change the way people eat in schools and homes. Since 2002 his raison d’etre has been at the centre of what he does and gives the Jamie brand a magnetic north. In which direction is Star Wars’ compass pointing?
As any future films in the Star Wars franchise seem very unlikely, George Lucas needs to rethink his long-term strategy for Star Wars. Too many licencing deals will lower the exclusivity of the brand and will surely limit the premium he can command. Mr Lucas, remember: absence does make the heart grow fonder.