May the Force (of Marketing) Be With You

When Mr. Potato Head was tempted by the Dark Side of the Force and emerged as Darth Tater, with helmet, cape and lightsaber, we knew this would be a year for "Star Wars" marketing like no other.

Suddenly, Chewbacca is here, ready to soak you with his Wookiee Water Blaster and Darth Vader will do battle with any 7-year-old armed with a light-up SaberSpoon pulled from a Kellogg's cereal box.

The final installment of the most successful film franchise in history, "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," hits theaters May 19, and the onslaught of advertising has begun.

Already we're seeing the M&M mascots dressed up as "Star Wars" characters and splayed on billboards, candy wrappers and NASCAR vehicles driven by Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler.

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Burger King and Cingular Wireless are featuring R2-D2, C-3PO and Darth Vader in TV ads, while Pepsi has nailed down exclusive rights to Yoda. Burger King is also unveiling a "Star Wars" scratch-and-win game and star-and-lightning-bolt-shaped chicken tenders.

While marketing for "Shrek," "Harry Potter" and "The Incredibles" movies has been intense, "Star Wars" has a much broader target audience. The space saga began in 1977 -- and three prequels over the last six years have made the Force strong in a whole new generation.

Here's a look at some of the more interesting toys and advertising campaigns hitching their wagon to the Millennium Falcon and other star cruisers. Believe it or not, there are also several groups using movie hype to raise money for charity and get people to go to church.

1. The Darth Vader Voice Changer Mask

Destined to be one of the hottest toys this Christmas -- or at least an amusing way to deal with pesky telephone solicitors -- is Hasbro's $30 strap-on mask and chest plate that will transform your voice into the diabolical tones of Darth Vader.

The headgear runs on three AAA batteries. Speak into the microphone, and suddenly, you'll sound just like James Earl Jones, the voice of the Sith Lord. A career as a Verizon spokesman may be in your future.

2. The Dark Side of Computing

Don't come crying to me when you get thrown out of the library for heavy breathing. You'll just have to tell the security guard, "It's not me, it's my Darth Vader computer."

Lucasfilm and Alienware have developed a new line of desktop and notebook computers with a design and special features inspired a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

The "Dark Side" versions have the creepy Vader look, while the "Light Side" is an all-Jedi design. Each computer is packed with exclusive content, including video and music highlights from the space saga, games and free membership in the "Star Wars" fan club.

And if you can find the time, you can also use these computers for school, unless you want to try that old Ewok-ate-my-homework excuse.

3. The Cellular Cry of the Wookiee

Han Solo's hairy sidekick was always a 7-foot-tall crybaby. But now, Chewbacca is screaming for money. Cingular Wireless is offering a wide range of "Star Wars" ring tones. If you attend the premiere and forget to turn off your phone, the entire audience could be treated to hearing "May the Force Be With You" from the cellular device ringing in your pocket.

Among the Jedi Ring Tone offerings, available for $2.49 each, are C-3PO proclaiming, "I am fluent in over 6 million forms of communication." If that's Jar Jar Binks calling, tell him I'm not home.

4. Lego My Game Boy

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