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Disney's careful plan to get you interested — but not too interested — in Star Wars

Disney has a "very carefully designed marketing plan" to get consumers excited about the Star Wars franchise this year, CEO Bob Iger said today during an earnings call. And it includes a tantalizing video game tease.

"We have already talked about some games that will come out into the marketplace," Iger said. "EA had an announcement at Star Wars Celebration, for instance. You can expect that there will be more game-related activity between now and the release [of Star Wars: The Force Awakens]."

In May 2013, Disney and Electronic Arts signed an exclusive deal for certain Star Wars games. The first game born of that that partnership will be Star Wars Battlefront, which is in development at Battlefield studio EA DICE and scheduled for a Nov. 17 release. The 10-year deal, which will not focus on movie tie-ins, also encompasses Battlefield Hardline and Dead Space developer Visceral Games. Last year, Naughty Dog veteran and Uncharted series creative director Amy Hennig joined Visceral to work on the studio's unannounced Star Wars game.

Video games are just one component in Disney's larger strategy to market its $4.1 billion Lucasfilm acquisition. To Lucasfilm's new owner, marketing is not just about fostering interest in the most notable new development — Star Wars: The Force Awakens will hit theaters Dec. 18 — but in Star Wars as a whole.

Disney knew that Star Wars was popular when it bought the franchise from George Lucas in late 2012, but Iger said today that the company underestimated fan demand for the galaxy far, far away.

"I will say, we've been overwhelmed with interest," he said. "We knew when we purchased this that there was great interest and value, but so far, it has well exceeded our expectations."

As an example, he cited interest in the two teaser trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Earlier in the call, Iger said that the second trailer received more than 88 million views in its first 24 hours. To date, it has more than 200 million views.

Iger said that Disney is mindful of several complementary components. Those include old fans, new fans and markets like China, which is now the "number 2 movie market in the world," Iger said, but was barely a factor when the last series movie, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, was released in 2005. That understanding helped shape what he called Disney's "deliberate" marketing strategy. And it's already underway.

Iger used the recent worldwide downloadable releases of the first six Star Wars movies as an example of Disney's deliberate rollout. The recently announced release of The Force Awakens merchandise, which will happen on what the company is calling "Force Friday," Sept. 4, is another part, the CEO said.

"I think generally, you're going to see us release, in a very careful way, certain elements of the film as part of a very carefully designed marketing plan, again as we get much closer to the film," he said.

Though Iger didn't mention them, part of the Star Wars strategy includes the Aftermath series of novels. Set to debut in September, the trilogy will chronicle the events after Return of the Jedi and fill in the blanks between that film and The Force AwakensStar Wars Rebels, an animated series, premiered on DisneyXD last year.

The strategy extends far beyond 2015. Iger pointed out that, in the next two years — between now and May 2017 — Disney and Lucasfilm will release three live-action feature films: Episode VII this December, the spin-off Anthology film Star Wars: Rogue One in December 2016 and the untitled Episode VIII in May 2017.

Iger's constant characterization of deliberateness can also be viewed as a reaction to previous Star Wars marketing strategies. Again, he didn't mention them directly, but his comments did address a situation that Disney doesn't want to create.

"We also want to be careful"

Back when it was an independent company, Lucasfilm's marketing strategy for Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 1999 was enormous, as images from the movie adorned Taco Bell restaurants as well as Frito-Lay and Pepsi products, just to name a few. Lucasfilm did less canvassing with subsequent releases. The marketing campaign for Episode II - Attack of the Clones in 2002, for example, was deliberately more subdued, which was widely viewed as a course correction and an acknowledgment that the company had unintentionally supersaturated the marketplace with The Phantom Menace.

"We are managing all of this with great care, as well, in that, while we are mindful of the fact that we have to market this and go after this new generation and new territories, we also want to be careful that the demand does not create almost — " Iger paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. "Too much in the marketplace too soon.

"So everything that we have done to date has been deliberate, and we have an extremely carefully constructed and deliberate plan going forward, in terms of what we roll out in the marketplace and in terms of product and in terms of marketing."

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