UPDATE: Unto Them a Child Was Born: Can Baby Yoda Save Us?
When I wrote this piece, I couldn’t have imagined we were all about to spend 2020 stuck inside, fighting about masks, and doomscrolling through our social media feeds. The year didn’t turn out how we expected, to say the least. But season two of The Mandalorian is here and one thing remains true: Baby Yoda is a cultural moment that points to something bigger—our need for simple pleasures that calm us, connect us, and remind us that the world can be a kind place.
The other night, my husband and I sat down to watch “The Mandalorian” on Disney+, and immediately discovered what the rest of the world already knows: Baby Yoda is the best thing that’s happened in 2019.
Helmed by Marvel producer Jon Favreau, “The Mandalorian” is the new Star Wars show, and Disney+’s most successful original programming thus far. It’s a serial adventure that hearkens back to old westerns and samurai films, the story of a bounty hunter questioning his values who collects the Child (or, as the internet has dubbed him, Baby Yoda) on a mission and becomes his impromptu guardian. When he finds Baby Yoda, he finds something to rally around.
And so did viewers. The world loves Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda fever is real. The little green puppet is the subject of a thousand memes and at least one terrible tattoo. Celebrities claim to have seen him at basketball games. Disney rushed out Baby Yoda merchandise ahead of the Christmas season. Werner Herzog, the dour German filmmaker who plays the Mandalorian’s villainous client on the show, told GQ the Baby Yoda puppet is “heartbreakingly beautiful.” He’s the Cabbage Patch Kid of the season: cute, everywhere you look, and heralding a message — a call for love and unity.
As a marketer, I think Baby Yoda raises a lot of interesting questions. Why is he so lovable (aside from his soulful eyes and giant ears)? Why is Baby Yoda going viral and not an equally cute, but real, cat or dog? And most important, what can Baby Yoda tell us about the world and where our culture is going?
Why does everybody love Baby Yoda?
There’s a lot to be furious about in 2019. Climate change, divisive politics, economic uncertainty, big data’s erosion of consumer privacy—take your pick. Our Brands in Motion global study found that consumers are tired of living in such a polarized world. We crave technology and brands that can unify us rather than pull us further apart. We desperately need something we can all agree on.
Star Wars is already a unifying force — it’s beloved by people of all ages, from the baby boomers who took their Gen X kids to see the original in 1977 to the millennials rushing out to buy Baby Yoda plushies for their toddlers — and Baby Yoda is an empty vessel we can fill with hope, goodness and whatever positivity we want to see in the world. In a world of bespoke content, dozens of streaming content providers and a special niche for every consumer, we don’t have a lot of water-cooler talk moments, but Baby Yoda has achieved impressive saturation.
Galvanizing cultural moments like Baby Yoda are useful because they reveal what people really want. In December 2019, that’s something cute and fuzzy and fun that you can share memes about with your parents, kids and co-workers. In 2020, expect more brands aiming for little micro-moments that bring everyone together, particularly on streaming platforms.
Whether or not those moments can match the viral love for the little green guy that uses the force and eats frogs remains to be seen. One thing I do know: My (grown) children will be getting Baby Yoda in their stockings this Christmas. And Santa, if you’re listening, I’d love one too.
Image courtesy Disney+
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