© 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:
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.
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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."
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
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.
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
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
"It's probably the most important book that booksellers will sell
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.
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