The following is a guest post by Iris Robin.
I’ve never been a collector or had a penchant for action figures. I’m also a student on a limited budget. So when the first Force Friday rolled around in 2015, I didn’t participate. Instead, I watched other people flood social media with videos from their midnight line-ups and photos of their toys. They posted about the freebies they got and the other fans they met while shopping. It seemed that the only way to get involved with Force Friday was to buy something.
I’ve worked in marketing and, no matter the approach any given company takes, the goal is always to make money. Advertisements are horribly impersonal and I spend more time avoiding them than I do engaging with them. I’ll change channels during the commercial breaks on TV, and I use an ad blocker online. I can’t escape feeling like I’m nothing more than a consumer, a few dollars on some corporate executive’s profit margin.
When Force Friday II was introduced with Find the Force, an immersive, augmented reality event, I was intrigued. What’s the catch? Did I need to pay for the app? Did I need to buy a toy and scan a code on the package to be able to use the AR features?
You can download the app and scan this image to meet an AR character. Try it now!
I needn’t have worried. It was simple: download the app, scan a Find the Force image, and watch as a surprise Star Wars character appeared in the room with you! Also, if you were in a location with an applicable landmark, you could open the app within a mile of that landmark and the app would show you a huge Star Destroyer hovering overhead as two TIE fighters fly past. And I didn’t have to pay a cent for the experience.
I happened to be at a convention over the weekend that Find the Force was going on and there were Star Wars banners everywhere. There was a cluster of fans in front of each one, excited to see which character they’d meet. Once you’d discovered the character, you could take photos or videos with them through the app. It was something that everyone with a smartphone could do, a communal experience that everyone was free to enjoy.
It didn’t feel like I was being sold something—of course the campaign’s end goal was to get people to buy the merchandise, but that goal didn’t come at the expense of fan enjoyment, or at any expense at all. Rather, the whole experience felt fan-focused.
Even if I wasn’t going to buy the products, I still wanted to see them. When the toys were revealed, my friends and I speculated on what they might reveal about the film: Finn’s action figure comes with a blaster—does that mean Finn will have a combat sequence? Will he wield a lightsaber as well, or not? How come Kylo Ren’s figure doesn’t include his mask? And why in the Galaxy does the General Hux figure come with a mouse droid? We were stoked about Force Friday II whether we intended to buy anything or not.
I got very excited when I saw these boards and I broke character.
I even got hyped up by the pre-campaign that advertised Find the Force. At the convention centre, there were floor-to-ceiling banners for both the Resistance and the First Order that I also wanted pictures with—in my costume of course. The Aurebesh text on the posters that read: “If you’re able to read this, it appears that you’ve already found the force,” and slight variations thereof, was a lovely touch and validated the half hour I spent learning to read it last year.
And I haven’t even talked about how innovative the technology is. I’m not a tech nerd by any means, but I know that Find the Force was unlike any other marketing effort I’ve ever seen. There’s an app for everything these days, but I love that the AR was designed to take fun and shareable photos because that’s how I express enthusiasm much of the time. Find the Force was truly about bringing the Star Wars universe to life. It meant that you could be a fan and not have to prove it.
I was thoroughly impressed by the creativity of this large-scale campaign and I would be thrilled if there were another one like it anytime soon.