3 Lessons We’ve Learned From the Baby Yoda Marketing Fail

3 Lessons We’ve Learned From the Baby Yoda Marketing Fail

I’m going to take you all on a little time travel journey. We’re going back to the Tickle Me Elmo crisis that consumed the Christmas of 1996. People lucky enough to snag the coveted item started selling it for thousands and thousands of dollars to those who were desperate enough to get them for their kids. Back to our own time, now that the 2019 holiday shopping season is over, Disney might be starting what wonder what might have been. What would have happened if they had planned a little better for the Baby Yoda craze that has rocked our country since the launch of the Disney+ platform in November. It’s very likely that another Tickle Me Elmo-type craze could have changed the face of the merchandising industry this year.

So what happened? At first Disney wanted to protect the identity of the adorable little creature for the big surprise at the end of the first episode. But it soon became clear that no merchandise went on sale even after a few episodes released because there WASN’T any merch to sell. Creator Jon Favreau said they were willing to take the hit with no toys or merchandise because they wanted all fans to discover the character together. 

More likely, Disney and Lucasfilm just didn’t anticipate how popular the new character would be. That defeats the thought and rumors that all Disney does is make movies and with dollar signs in mind through merchandising and toy sales. And perhaps this year, the merchandising focus went entirely to the new Rise of Skywalker movie. Whatever the reason, there’s several lessons to be learned from the entire situation.

It’s hard to anticipate trends, but it’s important to prepare

JungleScout used a keyword tracker tool to provide this information. As of the first week of December, people searched the term Baby Yoda 90,000 times just on Amazon. “Baby Yoda Plush” had 27,000 searches, for an increase of 4,782%. And the keyword “Mandalorian” also jumped for 125,900 searches on Amazon. In other words, people want the baby Yoda Merch. JungleScout also anticipated that based on search volume and an average purchase price of $25/item, Disney lost approximately $2.7 million in would be revenue just because they didn’t have any Baby Yoda merchandise to sell. 

Of course you can never anticipate every trend that’s going to happen. Things catch us by surprise all the time in ways that we could never expect. But Disney has had this pattern before. Baby animals or characters are ALWAYS well received. Think back to even a couple years ago with Baby Groot with the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Baby Groot was everywhere, and so was the merchandise that performed very well. I, myself, jumped on the bandwagon and have a Baby Groot Funko. 

Key Takeaway: Even though you can’t anticipate trends, you can take lessons from past successes. Of course Disney will have some merchandise for every new show. The Mandalorian was the most anticipated release on the new Disney+ platform. And they had some show merchandise. But even if they did want to wait to release the Baby Yoda merchandise for after the character reveal in the show, they weren’t prepared for the level of popularity. It’s important for companies to rely on past successes. If it’s worked well for you in the past, there’s a good chance that it will work well again in the future. Disney didn’t prepare for it even though they’ve had good success with Baby Groot, Jack Jack from The Incredibles, and baby Dory from Finding Dory.

Don’t make up for lost time/past mistakes with products no one wants

When they realized the popularity of the character and how much people wanted the merchandise, Disney released plans for a line of shirts, hats, mugs, and phone cases. But these items looked like someone just slapped it together overnight and with very basic appearances. Almost like Disney rushed in order to have something ready for release. All the items featured the same two images of the character dubbed “The Child”. And these items, though they got high search volume, didn’t actually sell very much through various retailers like Walmart, Box Lunch, and the Disney store.

In this it’s important to learn the art of the scramble in marketing. Several times throughout any career, people will realize they’ve missed the boat in one way or another. Immediately jumping and trying to solve the problem with just a band-aid solution doesn’t actually solve the problem. Customers, clients, and the general public see through that more often than not. And at the end of the day, the company is still having to solve the bigger problem. 

Key takeaway: Think through solutions. Put yourselves in the shoes of your customers and think about what they really want from your business. Hastily thought through solutions don’t solve the problems. Well thought-out solutions, even if they take a little longer to execute will prove much better for all parties. Customers get what they want, and companies are able to provide the solutions their customers are looking for. And even if your company is a little slow in coming up with the right solutions, own up to it. Those honesty points often win more faith with customers than anything else

Own Your Space and Do the Best at What you Can 

Disney is hands down one of the best in the world at providing magical experiences that no one can beat. And they own that space. They own the Disney magic that fans worldwide have come to love. And even though they failed hard at the millions of potential dollars made during the holiday season, Disney knows that people will still buy all the merchandise when it becomes available, because, of course they will. Think to Game of Thrones, even though the series ended and people weren’t exactly happy about it, it’s still one of the biggest fandoms with some of the best merchandising being sold during this holiday season. Even though the Baby Yoda toys won’t be available until May, it will undoubtedly be a huge hit. Disney is still the best at what they do, and they will win no matter how many knock offs people buy off of Etsy. (even if some of that merchandise is unbelievably adorable).

Key takeaway: For every business out there, they must have a reason for doing what they do. And generally, it’s because of a passion for what they do, trying to do it better than anyone else. Despite the challenges, the competition, and the mistakes that will inevitably come with any business, it’s possible to come out on top. For local businesses, own you brand, engage with customers through social media and Google My Business, work hard to be the best at what you do, and the customers will follow. Very rarely is a mistake so drastic that it can’t be overcome.

Unfortunately this year, no one will be waking up to officially licensed Baby Yoda presents under their tree. Much to the dismay of Star Wars fans everywhere, both old and young. And like many of us, we’ll enjoy the merchandise when it eventually shows up on our doorsteps in May. Even when the hype has died down and we probably will have forgotten that we pre-ordered it. But it will bring joy nonetheless. But with all these lessons in mind, the battle isn’t totally lost. We can avoid many of these same failures in our own companies.

Kristine Pratt
[email protected]oostability.com

Kristine is the Content Marketing Manager with Boostability. She brings a decade's worth of communications strategy work to the company. In addition to being a part of the marketing team, Kristine enjoys traveling, sports, and all things nerdy.