NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Hasbro is betting the force will be in the boxes. The empty boxes.
The nation's No. 2 toymaker wants to unleash the force for its new collection of "Star Wars" toys as the countdown begins for the sixth movie in the series, the upcoming "Star Wars Episode III: "Revenge of the Sith," due in theaters May 19. To do so, it's turning to a reprise of the "empty box" campaign from the first Star Wars movie in 1977.
That was "marketing genius by accident," said Jim Silver, who follows the industry as editor of Toy Wishes magazine.
When Kenner Toys picked up the merchandise license for the first Star Wars movie, shortly before the film opened, it didn't have much time to churn out toys and other merchandise.
As the buzz around the movie escalated, so did demand for everything Star Wars. Kenner, rather than let the opportunity slip away, decided to ship empty boxes with vouchers inside, redeemable for four Star Wars toys at a later date.
When consumers buy an empty box at Wal-Mart Stores early Saturday, they'll get a certificate redeemable for the four Star Wars action figures originally available in 1977: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2D2 and Chewbacca. Hasbro has produced only 50,000 boxes.
"I think the empty box will appeal strictly to the collectors rather than the 7-year-old kid who wants to leave the store with a Star Wars toy," Silver said.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing, said independent toy industry analyst Chris Byrne.
"Star Wars fans are such a fragmented market, everybody from the young kids to adult collectors" that the new strategy could create "buzz," especially among older fans. "I don't think 50,000 boxes is enough to meet all the demand out there but it's enough to build the hype," he said.
The Force is strong with Hasbro
Hasbro (Research), the nation's No. 2 toymaker after Mattel (Research), is the master licensee for all Star Wars toys and games.
"Star Wars has been a successful part of our DNA and we hold that license near and dear to our heart," said Eric Nyman, Hasbro's senior director of marketing for Star Wars products.
Nyman said Hasbro's "Empty Box" gimmick is part of three limited early bird promotions that will be offered to Star Wars fans April 2-3.
In addition to the empty box gimmick, Hasbro has created a limited edition holographic Yoda action figure that comes with its own light saber, available only at Toys "R" Us.
Star Wars fans can also buy a one-of-a -kind "Lava Reflection Darth Vader" exclusively at Target (Research) stores.
A word of caution -- don't throw away the packaging. According to Nyman, there's a hidden symbol on the package of each of the three exclusive Hasbro promotions that will be available at Wal-Mart, Target and Toys "R" Us.
"Once you find all three symbols, got to the Hasbro Web site and try to crack the Star Wars code for a secret prize," Nyman said. If you don't want to buy all the products, you can search for the symbols on the digital images of the products on Hasbro's Web site, he added.
Both Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us are planning Star Wars-themed events to launch their exclusive Star Wars merchandise.
Toys "R" Us is giving its customers a "midnight madness" experience. The toy retailer will open its doors across the country at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is getting ready to hold "40 Hours of the Force" with decorated tents outside participating stores. Events include DJs playing Star Wars music and photo opportunities with costumed Star Wars characters.
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