The Star Wars franchise has captivated audiences for nearly four decades and pulled in more than $3 billion at the box office alone. This cultural and advertising juggernaut has also spawned its own holiday, enabling its most passionate fans to joyously bestow the Force upon one another each May 4. According to reports, May 4 celebrations began in earnest in 2011. Naturally, brands and marketers soon followed.
It’s a franchise that has broken records time and time again and, according to the American Marketing Association, “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” changed marketing forever upon its release on May 25, 1977, becoming the first movie to really harness merchandising power – and subsequently selling $20 billion worth of goods. Further, by some accounts, Star Wars is now the world’s most powerful brand. In the content-heavy atmosphere we live in, it’s easy to find
In the content-heavy atmosphere we live in, it’s easy to find “What Star Wars Can Teach Us About”-posts (yes, we’re even guilty of it here on Momentology!), so we won’t reinvent the wheel.
Instead, here’s a look at 38 brands – one for each year since its release – that have incorporated Star Wars into their consumer outreach, which further underscores the breadth of the franchise’s marketing power.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of marketing campaigns featuring Star Wars, but we’ve culled our favorites, along with a few of the most memorable and/or absurd in recent history. (Ad Age recently looked at all the places Star Wars lives, including your face, feet, wrist, dreams, coffee and breakfast. Particularly enthusiastic fans may also want to check out the
So, Star Wars and/or marketing fans, brace yourself for characters made out of food, cinnamon roll hair jokes, Force puns, tongue-in-cheek references to paternity, black/white juxtaposition, and plenty of genuinely loving tributes from presumably nostalgic brands and marketers. May the Fourth be with you.
Per the AMA, the Home of the Whopper co-promoted the first Star Wars film nearly 40 years ago via ads and merchandise, like these tasteful glasses.
More recently, toasted sandwich chain Quiznos married Star Wars and HBO hit “Entourage”, which had its own 2015 movie debut, in “Startourage: The Foursome Awakens”, on its curated content platform Toasty.TV. Startourage has 1.4 million views to date on YouTube (and a comparable True Reach, which includes views on other platforms as well.).
Not surprisingly, perhaps, a rep for agency Windowseat told AdWeek the effort – which includes skin, Star Wars banter and Quiznos products sprinkled throughout – sought to attract young adult males.
The King of Sliders paid homage to the franchise’s opening montage with a slider GIF in a May 4, 2015 tweet:
— White Castle (@WhiteCastle) May 4, 2015
Rival burger slinger Whataburger built its own walker out of condiments.
For its part, sandwich chain Subway has celebrated back-to-back May Fourths, each time with a character made out of vegetables – not unlike its NFL draft food sculptures:
— SUBWAY® (@SUBWAY) May 4, 2015
Meanwhile, the cinnamon roll purveyor – which also sought to make the most of its cameo in “Better Call Saul” last year – has attempted to capitalize on the similarities between its core product and Princess Leia’s infamous hairdo:
— Cinnabon (@Cinnabon) May 3, 2015
(Hankering for more cinnamon-rolls-that-look-like-hair jokes? You’re in luck! Stay tuned.)
Like White Castle, the Canadian coffee and doughnut chain also went the introductory montage route, along with a few donut holes in costume for good measure:
— Tim Hortons (@TimHortons) May 4, 2015
While the casual American restaurant may never top its infamous Baby Back Ribs jingle, which it recently re-released with emojis, it took advantage of some kismet last year when Darth Vader himself dined at one of its locations.
In 2014, the Colonel’s quick-serve chicken empire turned to Vine to illustrate yet another way to harness the Force for good:
May the fourth be with you. https://t.co/OA7ax58Md8
— KFC (@kfc) May 4, 2014
And while the coffee giant may be too busy counting ice cubes to acknowledge May 4 this year, the brand has previously gone the Darth-Vader-and-light-saber route to push Frappuccino Happy Hour, which, conveniently, returned May 1:
Volkswagen’s The Force, which aired in Super Bowl XLV in 2011, ranks as one of the most popular Super Bowl ads ever, with a True Reach of more than 89 million. It was also among the first Super Bowl ads to be released prior to the big game and its huge pre-game viewership helped pave the way for the early release trend among subsequent Super Bowl advertisers.
The Japanese auto manufacturer realized “Juke” rhymes with “Luke,” et voila:
— Nissan (@NissanUSA) May 4, 2014
Hot Wheels debuted a life-size Darth Vader car at Comic-Con 2014, or what AdWeek described as a modified Corvette with Darth Vader helmet details, along with a video and the hashtag #DarthCar. The effort was meant to push Star Wars-inspired Hot Wheels cars, which soon followed.
While Star Wars and the Danish toy company certainly have a deep and meaningful relationship, their most memorable joint execution was perhaps the life-size X-Wing fighter jet in Times Square, which, at the time, was the largest Lego structure built to date. A related video includes Star Wars characters made out of Legos as well.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
To push its Star Wars-themed mac and cheese, Kraft executed a spot that gently pokes fun of Star Wars fan fervor in a room full of never-before-played-with collectibles, along with an interactive website that allows fans to explore the collection as well.
Per Ad Age, the brand also sponsored Star Wars radio on Pandora on May 4, 2015.
Makeup brand CoverGirl marked the 2015 release of “The Force Awakens” with the launch its own Star Wars collection, including Light Side and Dark Side mascara, nail polish and lipstick, which BuzzFeed described as “classy AF,” as well as a Tumblr and videos with nearly 2 million views a pop.
The quirky pizza and Pizza Rolls brand has also played off of both the Dark Side and the opening scroll.
— Pete Zaroll (@totinos) May 4, 2014
The cookie brand that set the bar for real-time marketing, paid homage to Leia’s hair and bikini.
Leia’s cinnamon roll hair was not lost on CPG brand Pillsbury either, which simultaneously pushed a recipe for “Super Simple Princess Leia (Cinnamon) Buns” that year.
— Pillsbury (@Pillsbury) May 4, 2015
Toilet paper brand Charmin – of paper-stuck-to-bear fame – has previously used May 4 as an opportunity to #TweetFromTheSeat and make its own bun pun.
This particular CPG brand partnered with cartoonist and pancake maker Random Breakfasts to execute Star Wars pancakes, presumably made with one of Crocker’s recipes.
— Betty Crocker (@BettyCrocker) May 4, 2014
The snack brand made its own granola bar Ewok to wish fans a happy May 4 last year.
The retailer, which certainly sells plenty of Star Wars merchandise, partnered with production company Lucasfilm to pay tribute to Star Wars fandom via a microsite that asked fans to submit photos and videos of their memories, which Lucasfilm then archived:
For its part, Google, too, asked fans to choose sides after partnering with Lucasfilm and Disney on a microsite that transformed apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and Chrome to reflect users’ chosen paths.
In the lead-up to both December holidays and the December 17 release of “Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens”, battery brand Duracell released an epic 60-second Star-Wars-themed clash between good and evil in Battle for Christmas Morning, which has nearly 64 million views to date across platforms.
Per AdWeek, Duracell partnered with Disney, Lucasfilm and the like to execute the spot authentically and to appeal to kids and parents alike.
Playing off of an underutilized Star Wars theme – that of Carrie Fisher insults – Dutch technology company Philips has implored fans to shave while also drawing a parallel between lightbulbs and -sabers on May Fourths of yore.
— Philips Norelco (@PhilipsNorelco) May 4, 2015
The social media management platform celebrated May 4, 2015 by pontificating about what Star Wars would be like with Twitter.
— Hootsuite (@hootsuite) May 4, 2015
In 2014, the OS made a tech-and-Star-Wars-themed paternity joke that tied back to its OneDrive service…
The digital industrial giant used Star Wars Day to make a physics joke.
— General Electric (@generalelectric) May 4, 2014
Also in 2014, both United and Delta realized the light sticks their employees use while planes taxi look suspiciously like lightsabers.
— Delta (@Delta) May 4, 2014
In 2013, Star Wars parent Disney kicked off the brand’s presence on Instagram with a selfie from Darth Vader himself, which has more than 73,000 likes to date. The Star Wars brand overall has since amassed 4.4 million followers on the network.
Even the arguable leader in children’s educational programming, which is no stranger to celebrity cameos, got in on the Star Wars action in a shot with Big Bird, C-3PO and R2-D2 in 2014…
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) May 4, 2014
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration used May 4, 2014 as an opportunity to teach fans about Saturn’s moon Mimas.
The NFL’s New York Jets, which haven’t done much right in recent memory, used May 4, 2015 as an opportunity to send greetings to its own legion of devoted fans.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) May 4, 2015
Chewbacca, Jawa and Stormtroopers make cameos in a skateboard-themed spot from apparel brand Vans to kick off its own Star Wars shoe and clothing collection in 2014.
The chocolate brand played off of a memorable “Star Wars” quote in its 2015 GIF.
Jolly Rancher The hard-candy brand asked fans to choose sides between Cherry and Blue Raspberry.
— JOLLY RANCHER (@Jolly_Rancher) May 4, 2015
What’s your favorite Star-Wars-themed marketing moment?