How do you draw the world's attention to a new Star Wars movie? The question is not as simple as it would seem. Although Star Wars had long been a success in the United States and Canada, it had not attained the level of "cultural phenomena" overseas and abroad.
"We conducted some initial research internationally to determine people's perception ofStar Wars. What was interesting was while they were aware of the films, they did not have the depth of knowledge of the characters and the deep storyline like those in the U.S. did," says Tom Warner, Marketing Project Manager for Lucasfilm Ltd.
To get past the overseas misperception of The Phantom Menace being "just another special effects-laden blockbuster," care was taken to focus on many of the elements that make Star Wars unique. The Phantom Menace is not a run-of-the-mill science fiction movie, but rather an epic space fantasy of good versus evil told through compelling characters and an engaging storyline.
The international campaign featured a sophistication not usually associated with Star Wars films. "To reach the people that Star Wars hasn't been reaching in the past, we needed to do something different," says Jim Ward, Vice President of Marketing. "We had to educate people about the true nature of Star Wars and move them past their misperceptions." The rich visual style of Episode I made it into sophisticated style and fashion magazines.
A number of factors complicated spreading the word of the new Star Wars movie. Firstly, while it contained many of the cherished elements of the classic Star Wars trilogy, it was an entirely new movie with a new cast of heroes and villains that had to be introduced to moviegoers. Secondly, the idea of a prequel is an awkward one to digest for casual moviegoers. That Episode I, a movie that came out 16 years after Return of the Jedi, actually takes place more than 30 years before the first movie that came out in 1977, requires some explaining.
To address these two challenges, a highly visual campaign was crafted that centered on the idea of "One." The creative material would showcase an individual character and their unique attributes. At the same time, the number one figured prominently in the materials produced, to identify the film as a first step into a larger world.
Domestically and abroad, this message of "One" and character traits was exemplified by the television advertising or what came to be known as the "Tone Poems". These literate commercials emphasized feelings instead of fight-scenes, characters instead of crashes, emotion instead of explosions, making them a brand apart from typical summer movie advertising.
Internationally, to complement the TV advertising, a separate outdoor campaign was developed. In some markets, outdoor and magazine presence was a necessity -- in France, for example, the law prevented television advertising for the film.
"Creatively, we decided to let the characters do the talking," says Ward. "Episode I has such a rich visual style that it transcends language, Just seeing a battle droid or the Queen decked out in her palace gown, larger than life, on the side of a building, is definitely a head-turner."
The design was intentionally kept very clean and simple to place emphasis on the rich detail contained within each character -- be it Queen Amidala's elaborate gowns or Jar Jar's mottled amphibian skin. Accompanying the photos was sparse but effective text that gave insight into the character's personality and attributes. "Seeing a 30-foot menacing visual of Darth Maul and reading the copy 'One Truth, One Hate,' without knowing a thing about him previously, you instantly knew this guy was evil and not to be messed with," says Warner.
The campaign was well received -- perhaps too well received, as all the bus shelter ads in Malaysia and Mexico were stolen within two days after being posted.
In the end, the mission was a success. The "One" campaign showed international audiences what the Star Wars experience is all about. Although it is rare for movies to do so, The Phantom Menace grossed more overseas than it did domestically. New fans around the world embraced the Star Wars universe, and proved that the epic sweep and simple fun of Episode I truly is an international language.