Yes, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" shredded many a box-office record on it's opening weekend. But, thanks to it's massive multi-generational fan base, a year of teasing teasers, and plenty of word-of-mouth, Disney had the luxury of letting the movie market itself—with a boost from some big brands.
Coverage from The Wall Street Journal and others have noted that Disney would be able to spend on the low end of what studios usually spend to market "tent pole" releases like "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Our data shows this trend carried through to digital ads as well.
In 2015, the advertising leader on the desktop was "Furious 7" (Universal Pictures). Released in April, 2015, Furious' advertising raced towards its release. In the 30 days prior to the opening weekend, Furious logged an estimated $4.4M in desktop advertising—$3.9M of that on a single-day spike at launch.
In comparison, in it's 30-days prior, "The Force Awakens" sabered up (only) $1.98M, with $1.5M of that on December 13th, five days before the Friday full release. A dream budget for many films, but certainly in the low end for this years blockbusters.
Even "Krampus," the Christmas horror-fantasy-comedy (Universal Pictures) scared up an estimated $6M on the desktop in the 30-days prior to its December release. Krampus spread it's peak spending over the final 3 days leading to its release.
The Tie-ins Awaken
The multi-generational fan base isn't the only Force in Disney's corner with Star Wars. Other brands have been promoting Star Wars with their own "The Force Awakens" related ads. From Procter & Gamble to Subway, Kraft, Verizon, and CoverGirl. Even the Royal Mail got into the action with "the best stamps in the galaxy" collections.
Here's a look at the impression shares of the top tie-in brands on desktop:
Brands certainly got in on video ads as well. The top tie-in brands using video:
And this does not take into account the ongoing merchandising of the Star Wars brand in such products as video games from Electronic Arts and toys from Lego.
As the Huffington Post summed it up, "This is the new Disney way. Disney no longer markets movies; instead, they market fandoms. From Marvel to Pixar, and especially Star Wars, they create personal connections and pull hard on heartstrings."