Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor

December 22, 2015

9 Min Read
The force is strong with these packages

In the age-old struggle between good and evil, between the light and the dark, which side is winning? When it comes to “Star Wars”-themed packaging designs, brands, retailers and fans are all winning.

Americans got caught up in the compelling saga of “Star Wars” in 1977 when the first movie crawled onto big screens, and into our hearts. Film series creator George Lucas released six episodes in all—with the latest one already a decade old. Fans of the mega-sci-fi-epic need only wait until Dec. 18 in the U.S., though, to see the latest chronicle in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The media blitz and fan fervor is at maximum pitch right now, stoked by new franchise owner The Walt Disney Co. According to The Hollywood Reporter: “Wall Street expects that Walt Disney and its licensees will sell $5 billion in merchandise related to ‘Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens’ in the first year alone after its Dec. 18 release. Judging from Nielsen data…that might be a conservative estimate.”

Go into nearly any store and you’ll see movie characters and other “Star Wars” graphics on a vast supporting cast of products as diverse as soup, makeup, ice cream, cereal and toys (of course) to help promote the movie. Most of the designs show familiar iconic images from the earlier movies, such as Jedi-master Yoda, Darth Vader, R2-D2 droid, Storm Troopers, TIE- and X-wing fighters and the Millennium Falcon. Let’s not forget the lightsaber, too, in all its neon glory.

That’s part of the marketing strategy—to connect fans across the generations—as fans of the earlier movies share their love of the saga with their kids. Perhaps it’s by necessity, because little has leaked out about the plot or players in “The Force Awakens.” The most-promoted character from the new movie so far is BB-8, another heroic droid, which has also been brought to life by toy-maker Sphero.

Whether you are a fan of the series or not, we invite you to come with us as we journey to another galaxy, far, far away, to see how the mega-force of “Star Wars” awakens sales of soup, makeup, bandages, ice cream, coffee creamer, cereals, salty snacks, crackers and more.

Of all the movie marketing tie-ins I saw, the CoverGirl limited-edition Star Wars makeup collection is the most elaborate, with special products, packaging and its own website. CoverGirl promotional materials explain the strong connection with the brand’s consumers: “CoverGirl as a brand has always played at the intersection of pop culture and beauty, and sought to empower women through our campaigns. Through our partnership with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ we want to help the millions and millions of female Star Wars fans celebrate their fandom, especially given that the new movie features strong, leading female characters. Transformation, and light versus dark, are key themes of the film franchise, and what better way than makeup to transform your look, and explore the different sides of your personality.

“Pat McGrath, our global creative director, is a huge Star Wars fan, so we partnered with her to create six stunning beauty looks, three from ‘the light side’ and three from ‘the dark side,’ each inspired by an iconic character in the film (such as a Stormtrooper or droid). Our limited-edition products are collectible mascaras [see photo above] with Star Wars quotes, and new lipstick and nail shades [see photos below].

“In addition, Janelle Monae, also an avid Star Wars fan and a CoverGirl, partnered with us to create a surprise seventh look for the campaign: Resistance Pilot.”

The quotes on “the light side” waterproof mascaras are: “May The Force Be With You;” “Do, Or Do Not, There Is No Try;” “You’re My Only Hope;” “I Feel The Good In You;” and “Luminous Beings Are We.”

The quotes on “the dark side” regular mascaras are: “I Will Finish What You Started;” “There Has Been An Awakening;” “Indeed You Are Powerful;” “You Will Meet Your Destiny;” and “Immune To The Light.”

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Next: Winning with the “light versus dark” struggle

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CoverGirl isn’t the only brand engaging consumers by making them choose a side: light or dark.

Ample Hills Creamery created two different Star Wars ice creams: The Light Side is a marshmallow ice cream with chunks of crispy treats in a white pint carton and The Dark Side is a dark chocolate ice cream with espresso fudge brownies in a black carton. Sold in four-packs, the pints shipped to stores Dec. 9. Both sound yummy.

Next: Marketing weapon of choice

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When I saw the Fla-Vor-Ice packaging this spring (see the last product in this slideshow), I thought it was clever to visually connect the product’s tube to a lightsaber. This was the earliest Star Wars-themed packaging design that I saw, but it makes sense that even a summer product would want to take advantage of the marketing hype for what is sure to be the movie event of the year.

Many other brands and products also activated their marketing weapon of choice, a.k.a. the lightsaber:

Honey Nut Cheerios cleverly incorporates the lightsaber and Darth Vader into the brand’s famous bee character.

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Cheez-It boxes may leap from shelves with this arresting image of Yoda brandishing his lightsaber.

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Next: These are the droids you’re looking for

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The new BB-8 droid may be one of the hottest gifts of the 2015 holiday season but it still lags behind the star power of R2-D2 and C-3PO because these are the droids Star Wars fans already love.

Here is my favorite droid packaging design so far, though: The full-body shrink label of R2-D2 on this Coffee-Mate creamer caught my eye at the grocery store, partly because I would have never expected a movie tie-in with this type of product. When a couple also shopping at the store saw me taking a picture, they came over to see what I had found, and were most excited to share with me what they had found, which is coming up next: a Campbell Soup can with a stormtrooper on the label.

Next: A character study

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Turns out the stormtrooper is just one of six character label designs for Campbell Soup’s limited-edition Star Wars product line. Promotional materials also explain that:

· With intricate, die-cut pasta shapes, fans can fill their soup spoons with mini classic "Star Wars" characters including R2-D2, C-3PO, Yoda, Chewbacca, stormtrooper and Darth Vader. The Star Wars pasta and chicken soup does not contain added MSG, artificial flavors or artificial colors. Suggested retail price is $1.79.

· The C-3PO and Chewbacca labels are only available at Target.

· The Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, R2-D2 and Yoda labels are available at grocers nationwide. These four labels are also available in multipacks of 10 cans at Sam’s Club.

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· Collectible cans of SpaghettiOs will also be available in three designs: Yoda, Darth Vader and droids, the last of which will only be available at Target. Suggested retail price is $1.09.

We have still to formally meet the heroes and villain of “The Force Awakens” but we’ll recognize them from seeing them on a range of packages:

Chex Mix opted to use characters from the new movie on its three bag designs, including the new masked villain Kylo Ren (center bag).

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The carton graphics for Star Wars fruit snacks also hedge its bets by using previous and new characters on its cartons, including its Mega Pack sizes.

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General Mills limited-edition Star Wars cereal boxes show old and new characters, too.

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Nabisco’s Honey Maid graham crackers packages show different characters on various panels, even the bottom (seen in the top of the photo below) so they are visible no matter how the cartons are displayed on store shelves.

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Kraft Mac & Cheese boxes and cups showcase the familiar characters of Yoda, Darth Vader and C-3PO.

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Potential “The Force Awakens” hero and ex-stormtrooper Finn could be why we’re seeing a fair number of stormtroopers on product packages, like this Duracell carded blister. I’m sure the marketing connection will become clearer once we see the new movie.

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Next: A vehicle for sales

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Band-Aid Brand launched four designs of collectable Star Wars tins (above) back in June and advised consumers to “Get yours before they fly off the shelves at lightspeed.” They took the “dark” route with a backdrop of deep space and the familiar space crafts: the Millennium Falcon, a TIE fighter (which is an acronym for “twin ion engines”), an X-wing fighter and the Death Star. According to the brand’s Facebook page, these tins are only available at Walmart.

Other brands are counting on Star Wars space crafts to help their products fly off shelves, too:

General Mills Reese’s Puffs cereal pieces look like asteroids following the Millennium Falcon.

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I love how Cinnamon Toast Crunch, also from General Mills, uses its cereal pieces as part of the design of the TIE fighters screaming across the box.

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Next: Most unusual designs

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We end our epic Star Wars slideshow with a couple other fun Star Wars product/packaging designs that may resonate with die-hard Darth Vader fans: Jello Jigglers mold (above) and the OxyGenics Darth Vader shower head (below).

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Find packaging design ideas and solutions at WestPack 2016, Feb. 9-11 in Anaheim, CA.

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About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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