UPDATED, Sept. 4, 8 a.m. PT: Disney, looking to ignite fan excitement for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” merchandise and the upcoming movie, kicked off a rolling series of live toy unboxings Wednesday evening featuring YouTube creators around the world.
The toy unboxing event spanned an 18-hour block, with YouTubers in Disney’s Maker Studios network in 15 cities in 12 countries offering a first look at the range of merchandise from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” set to go on sale Friday.
Among the toys unveiled:
- Hasbro’s 6-inch action figures of villain Kylo Ren, Rey with cylindrical droid BB-8, First Order loyalist Captain Phasma, Poe Dameron and a First Order Stormtrooper;
- Jakks Pacific’s large-size (in 38- and 48-inch) action figures of Ren and a First Order Stormtrooper;
- Lego’s Millenium Falcon, Poe’s X-wing fighter (pictured above) and Ren’s personal Command Shuttle;
- Mattel’s Hot Wheels Escape from Jakku Starship playset and assorted character cars;
- Hasbro’s BladeBuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber, Poe’s X-Wing Vehicle, Nerf First Order Stormtrooper Deluxe Blaster, Battle Action Millennium Falcon and Micro Machines First Order Star Destroyer;
- Spin Master’s Air Hogs remote-controlled Millennium Falcon Quad and X-Wing Starfighter; and
- Sphero’s app-enabled BB-8 motorized droid and 16-inch-high Yoda — who responds to voice commands and speaks 115 different phrases.
In addition, Disney Store introduced the Star Wars Elite Series die-cast action figure line which includes warrior Finn, Rey and BB-8, Captain Phasma and Kylo Ren, as well as kids’ costumes for key characters, including voice-changing masks. (See below for more product images.)
The YouTube unboxing videos led up to what Disney dubbed “Force Friday”: an event where retailers around the globe — including more than 3,000 Toys ‘R’ Us, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and Disney Store locations in the U.S. — will open their doors at midnight Thursday, Sept. 4, to start selling the merch. The toys also will be available to purchase at DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and specialty retailers.
And the “Star Wars” merchandise avalanche isn’t over yet: an additional wave of products will be released closer to the film’s Dec. 18 theatrical premiere “to preserve the integrity of key movie moments,” the studio said. That will include a Disney Infinity 3.0 play set for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” to be available Dec. 18.
The first toy reveal was in Sydney, Australia, by Bratayley (below), a trio of digital kid-sibling stars affiliated with Maker, who unboxed the Jedi Master Lightsaber on a set overlooking Sydney Harbour. The event, streamed live on the official Star Wars YouTube channel, rolled through Asia, Europe, Canada, South America and the U.S. overnight into Thursday morning.
On Thursday, ABC’s “Good Morning America” also broadcast live unboxings from New York, and later “Jimmy Kimmel Live” also got into the action with the late-night host donning Star Wars shoes and demo’ing the voice-changing masks. The toy launch concluded in San Francisco at Lucasfilm, the home of “Star Wars,” where a broader collection of products were showcased.
Still, while Disney’s unique YouTube-centric “Star Wars” toy launch is bound to build buzz and fanboy/girl enthusiasm for the brand, it’s not clear whether the strategy will ultimately deliver a bigger sales punch than conventional marketing would have. The legions of multi-generational “Star Wars” fans, it’s safe to assume, would have opened their wallets regardless of the staggered toy-unboxing hoopla.
Even for Disney, the massive merchandise launch is unprecedented, leading up to the release of the first “Star Wars” movie in 10 years.
The “Star Wars” toy and product-licensing juggernaut is expected to yield massive bucks: Sales of merchandise related to the movie franchise could exceed $5 billion in the 12 months following the film’s premiere, according to Macquarie Research estimates.
“There are always big movies every year, but this is the first time I’ve seen a product line launch three months before the film itself,” said Martin Brochstein, senior VP of industry relations and information for the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Assn. He said the latest “Star Wars” push is akin in scale to worldwide marketing events such as the release of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books or the launch of new Apple iPhones.
Disney Consumer Products chose to reveal the key “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” merch in partnership Maker, given the popularity of unboxing videos on YouTube. Of the top 100 most viewed YouTube channels worldwide, 18 are dedicated to toys and toy unboxings; Maker pulls in 1.5 billion views per month on its unboxing channels alone. The toy launch presented Disney with a clear opportunity to exploit Maker’s digital reach — and leverage the Mouse House’s $500 million-plus acquisition of the multichannel network.
Makers stars on board for the event include traditional toy unboxers like EvanTubeHD (New York), lifehack specialists such as ExpCaseros (Mexico City) and gamers such as AlexBy11 (Spain). According to Disney, the main thing they have in common is that they are all massive Star Wars fans and can’t wait to share their experiences.
Besides toys, the “Star Wars” product onslaught also includes: J. Crew apparel featuring the fan-favorite “Chewie, we’re home” scene of Chewbacca and Han Solo from the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” teaser trailer; Kohl’s collection of apparel for teen girls, including graphic T-shirts, leggings, sweatshirts, hoodies and dresses; and Pottery Barn Kids’ $4,000 Millennium Falcon children’s bed.
The initial “Force Friday” promo is aimed at collectors and adult fans who have an affinity to the Star Wars brand, Brochstein said. The broader kid-centric market will pick up closer to the holiday season at the beginning of November, when marketing for the film will hit hyperspeed.
Disney runs the risk over-saturating the market with “Star Wars” hype. “You have to walk a tightrope of maximizing the promotional opportunity and trying not to do too much to turn people off,” Brochstein said, “If people feel that it gets to the point they feel taken advantage of, then there’s a backlash.”
Brent Lang contributed to this report.