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Mega Potter Means Mega Marketing
Or is that: Mega Marketing Means Mega Potter
© 2003 Al Lautenslager

Every now and then something “Mega…” comes along. Maybe it’s that latest blockbuster movie, maybe it’s the latest toy at holiday time or maybe it’s something scandalous. When it happens though, it seems like we are all engulfed in it whether we choose to be or not. One “mega” event that just happened that was totally engulfing was the release of the 5th J.K. Rowling’s book in the Harry Potter series. Falling into the “engulf” and being a marketer and author myself made me think of the marketing buzz that provided that abyss that we all have fallen into. I approach this from a marketing standpoint, not necessarily a book reviewer or consumer standpoint but lets look at all the marketing going on before our eyes and take note and take lesson.

These are not in any particular order but are all key components of a marketing plan:

The Product:

All good marketing starts with the product. The better the product the easier and more deliberate the marketing. The worse the product the more marketing has to work harder. J.K.Rowling’s books are very very good products.

The number one reason word of mouth marketing works so well with any product is the value and worth of the product. J.K.’s writing of Harry Potter has tapped into a mainstream of adults, young adults and children. She has attacked mainstream thinking and mainstream culture.

The story has all the plot basics of a young readership-- a seemingly normal kid suddenly discovers he has some kind of magical super-powers. The story revolves around a school; albeit magical ... a setting, kids can relate to or wish to relate to. Not only is this the appeal of school children, it strikes a cord with adults as well. Take note of the target market.

Target Market/Positioning:

According to the NDP Group, a New York-based research company, half of all Harry Potter readers are over age 35 and a quarter are over 55. That leaves the remaining 25% being the children that we all think dominate the target market.

Philip Nel, an assistant professor of English at Kansas State University and a widely noted expert on the Harry Potter series, says there are many reasons why the books appeal to different age groups.

"The short answer is that these are good books. Period. All good children's literature appeals to both adults and children because it does not talk down to its readers and because there are multiple levels of meaning," Nel says. Multiple meanings can give a book depth. A person can discover new meaning in the book each time they read it again.

The books allude to literary figures like Shakespeare and E. Nesbit, and characters' names have "extra-textual meanings. Minerva McGonagall's first name comes from the Roman goddess of wisdom," he says.

Additionally, the books use strong storytelling.

This no doubt positions the book. If the Harry Potter series was a business, you would conclude at this point that the company knows what business they are in. This is a primary component of marketing and positioning.

"As well-plotted mystery novels, these are page-turners," he says. "We want to know what happens next, and that keeps readers of all ages interested." Nel says fantasy appeals to readers as well.

Uniqueness and Identity:

"A young person who discovers his or her powers and grand purpose is a common feature of the fantasy novel and, very likely, a secret wish of any children," Nel said. "As Rowling has said, 'I was aware when I was writing that this was a very common fantasy for children: 'These boring people cannot be my parents. They just can't be. I'm so much more special than that.' She has a point. I suspect it's a secret wish of many adults, too. We may have thought, 'I'm more special than ... this job,' or 'I deserve better than I'm getting.'"

A Purdue University marketing professor says a key element of the continuing success of Harry Potter has been the increasing maturity of the target audience along with the marketing campaign.

James Oakley, an assistant professor of marketing at Purdue's Krannert School, says, "The Harry Potter story is an amazing study in marketing. They've taken a book and built an enormous franchise."

The first Harry Potter book was aimed at a young audience, Oakley says. "The subsequent books have grown maturity-wise in both style and building in jokes aimed at adults that go right over the heads of the young readers.

"Besides the money spent on marketing, the marketing to adults was more due to word-of mouth."

And that, he says, is the best marketing of all.

Market Timing:

Faithful readers have waited more than two years for the fifth book's release. The lengthy delay has increased the fervor for "The Order of the Phoenix."

Marketing Buzz/PR:

Every talk show on the circuit domestically, in Rowling’s homeland in the U.K. and other countries is jostling for an interview, an appearance a quote or some affiliation with the phenomena. When you get to a point that your product/business is known as a phenomenon, your marketing has done its job.

Last Sunday, the New York Times ran a front-page story titled "Harry Potter and the Quest for the Unfinished Volume." The article speculated on the reasons for the delay and interviewed young fans anxious to know what's up with Harry.

Online marketing/strategic alliances/ distribution/ on-time delivery

Amazon is offering the book at a 40 percent discount to list prices, and is offering home delivery on the same day the book becomes available to the public in stores.

The company said the delivery of the books on June 21, the first day that "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)" is available to the public, "will be the largest distribution event of any single item in e-commerce history." Amazon said it is using FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service for the deliveries.

Meeting the need of a target market:

The craze for Harry Potter, the orphan who hones his magical skills at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, has added lots of excitement to the children's book business, and has managed to turn many children on to reading in general. And while it was written for the younger set, it has become a phenomenon among adults too.

"I think they're going to be classics

Putting the message where the market is:

Billboards. Baseball parks. A countdown in Times Square.

Traditional offline marketing:

Starting next month, billboard ads will appear in Atlanta, Chicago and several other US cities.

Strategic alliances/fusion marketing:

Scholastic will also take its campaign to baseball parks. The publisher has reached agreements with the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and other teams for Harry Potter days, featuring costume contests and scoreboard promotions.


The publisher has already distributed 3 million bumper stickers, 400,000 buttons, 50,000 window displays and 24,000 stand-up posters with countdown clocks. Logos could be found on badges throughout the Los Angeles Convention Centre, where BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual gathering, was held recently.

Media Kits/Event Kits:

Scholastic has also sent more than 15,000 "event kits" to bookshops, where parties are planned.

The kits include stickers, buttons, a trivia quiz and suggestions for how to handle long lines of impatient fans: "You can start a game of what Muggles call Telephone. Start the message with Dumbledore's line from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: 'It is time for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry.' Then people whisper the message from person to person. Let the person at the end of the line shout out what he thinks he heard."

Rowling's four previous Potter novels have sold more than 190 million around the world and Scholastic has commissioned a record 8.5 million first printing for Order of the Phoenix. Within hours of the announcement in January that Order of the Phoenix was coming out, the book had topped bestseller lists.

Event Marketing/PR:

Late-night, early-morning revelry

Many merchants are staying open until the early morning hours when the book is released. Others are organizing Harry Potter-themed parties with magic shows and live owls.

Some merchants -- from small independent stores to giant chains like Barnes & Noble -- are keeping their doors open past 12:01 a.m. on June 21, 2003 when it officially goes on sale.

Others are opening at dawn with their stores transformed into their interpretation of Harry Potter's world.

Many events pattern these that occurred during the last release of a Harry Potter book:

At the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota, face-painters will be drawing lightning bolts on children's foreheads -- just like the one Harry Potter has on his skull -- and there will be three live owls, which are considered friends and messengers in the books.

In Buckhannon, West Virginia, owner Michael Oldaker is considering building a set of scenes from the book in front of his store. The staff at The Blue Marble in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, will dress up like witches and wizards and offer cinnamon oatmeal from a black cauldron for breakfast.

In Britain, the 209 branches of Waterstone's bookstores are planning a range of activities, from wizards with wheelbarrows in the town center of Canterbury to general knowledge quizzes and guess-the-title competitions.

"It's probably the most important book that booksellers will sell this year."

Merchandising/product tie in/licensing/Strategic alliances:

The notion of synergy or cross-promotions, and the rampant commercialization of children’s culture through product tie-ins and product licensing. True the brand and product are still riding a wave of awareness from the blockbuster movie release 3 years ago.

Cross Promotion:

AOL Time Warner (the parent media conglomerate) produced the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and then promoted it through the various magazines it owns (Time, People, Sports Illustrated), through its cable network CNN, and on its AOL Internet service.

Marketing included product tie-ins and product licensing, wherein companies pay to manufacture products that feature a particular logo or film character. The $30–40 million includes the cost of various licenses on Harry Potter merchandise.

AOL Time Warner knows how much fans love J.K. Rowling's creation. They know that Harry is the goose that lays the golden egg – to the tune, they're hoping, of $2 billion projected revenue, in everything from box office returns to product tie-ins.


Even the book, she's actually integrates branding and marketing into the characters and story line. For example, the Nimbus 2000, is not just an everyday ordinary flying broom, it's a Nimbus 2000.

These are just a few of the marketing points this “phenomena” has hit; and homeruns they all are. There is much more Potter marketing going on as we speak; some we see blazing past our eyes and entering our minds and some we don’t know about yet or don’t see.

Hype, hysteria and a marketing blitz -- all are potent ingredients in the spell Harry Potter looks set to continue to cast over the reading public.

Sources for this article: Purdue News, June 19, 2003 * Puget Sound Business Journal, May 21, 2003 * CNN.com Book News, June 20, 2000 * SMH.com.au June 20, 2003 * Kansas State University, Newswise, June 19, 2003

Al Lautenslager, himself an author, speaker, marketing consultant, certified guerrilla marketing coach and business owner has not consulted with J.K.Rowling. He also hasn’t worked with her on her other book marketing projects. He is in the process of writing his own book and is estimating publication in about a year and is available for book marketing projects and all other marketing consultation and marketing coaching with authors, speakers, small businesses and businesses that make up the Fortune 1000. Al is available for interviews and speaking. He can be contacted at al@Market-For-Profits.com for marketing consultation and speaking engagements.

PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: These articles may be republished in newsletters and on websites provided attribution is provided to the author and it appears with the included copyright and resource box.

Email notice of intent to publish is appreciated: al@market-for-profits.com.


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