The Star Wars Factor: What Can A License Do For Your Brand?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 16, 2015

You would have to be living on another planet not to know about the new Star Wars movie. Not only has there been substantial buzz on social media and in the news, but Star Wars-themed products are practically spilling out of the aisles in every major retailer in the country.

By the time “The Force Awakens” is released in theaters, Walmart will carry more than 500 individual Star Wars products in its stores, and thousands more online. The Star Wars franchise, with Disney at the helm, is licensing its characters and mythology at an unprecedented volume, with big and small brands alike getting in on the action. Darth Vader Coffee-Mate, Yoda Band-Aids and Light Side vs. Dark Side CoverGirl makeup is just a small sample of how some brands are leveraging the Star Wars name.

And they have every reason to. With recent breakout merchandise successes like "Harry Potter" and "Frozen," licensing is big business these days. Brands have plenty of incentive to emblazon their packaging with the likenesses of beloved movie characters — as long as the partnership makes sense. The best licensing agreements will amplify both brands participating, resulting in a partnership that is greater than the sum of its parts. It all starts with great brand understanding and knowledge of your consumer. 



Not only do manufacturers need to grasp the intricacies and nuances of their own brands, they need to know the licensing brand well to ensure their audiences are aligned and the partnership is appropriate. Identifying audience alignment can be obvious in cases like “Frozen,” but it is more difficult when dealing with a multi-generational franchise like Star Wars. If you purchase the wrong license, you risk overshadowing your own brand or at worst confusing your target customer about who you are and how you are differentiated. 

That’s why any discussion of licensing should begin with consumer research that asks specific questions: Who buys my products? Who consumes my products? How does my target customer compare to the target customer of the licensing brand? How much awareness does my target customer have of the licensing brand? By first understanding your own brand value and perception, you’ll be able to identify the licenses you might want to purchase for your next campaign. From there, it’s a matter of understanding where the two brands intersect in order to determine how best to leverage your license. 

Obtaining the right licensing agreement can add a lot of value to your marketing activities. Here are three ways a license can elevate your brand.

Establish Basic Awareness

If your brand is new or competing in a saturated market, a well-applied license can help you establish a base level of awareness with your target consumer. If others in your category aren’t using promotions, you can jump out ahead and distinguish your own brand so it stays top of mind with consumers. 

Explain Your Brand 

A well-known property can help you quickly explain your brand to consumers. Iconic characters and stories are brands in and of themselves — with their own connotations and value. Adorning your product with the likeness of a well-known figure can be a form of knowledge by association. 

Linking your brand to a known property not only establishes your intended target market but also the personality you want to demonstrate for your brand. Betty Crocker appeals to bakers with home-spun goodness, Teen Titans attracts kids with silly and irreverent humor, Fair Trade certification ensures fair treatment of farmers to mindful coffee buyers. Temporarily adopting an already established symbol or icon can help consumers make the cognitive leap to what your brand is all about a lot faster.

Influence Consumers at the Point of Sale

Purchasing a license can also result in incremental sales by getting your product front and center with consumers. Not only do products featuring high-profile characters stand out from the shelves, they’re also often placed on special promotional displays on end-caps and islands. This kind of exposure can do wonders for your brand. A beloved property may delight your consumer and drive impulse purchase at the point of sale.

That being said, licensing a property is an expense and brand owners must weigh the opportunity it brings to grow a brand against the cost to acquire the license. When leveraged well, however, partnering with a popular property has the potential to not just grow but transform your brand. A great license agreement is a natural fit between the brands and it is a mistake to try and simply slap a brand on a package and expect great sales to follow. If you do pursue a license, remember the teachings of Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

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