Wild About Harry

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Warner Bros. Consumer Products continues to cast a spell of its own on Harry Potter literary- and film-based fans.

Harry Potter's magic wand seems to have wielded quite the spell over literary and film fans alike. So much so, that one can say a Harry Potter "phenomenon" has been underway since the release of author JK Rowling's first title, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." And it's not just kids. Through her imaginative and graphic writing, Rowling has gripped and enticed audiences of all ages into a world of wizardry and magic wonderment. Then it was the job of Warner Bros.-with the worldwide film, licensing, and merchandising rights-to wield a wand of its own. Now, with the third film in the Harry Potter series-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban-set for release June 4, 2004, Warner Bros. Consumer Products has something else up its sleeve. And License! got the exclusive story.

"There is no phenomenon bigger than Harry Potter. Globally, there is no literary property that has permeated kids' lives the way Harry Potter has," confirms Jordan Sollitto, executive vice president of worldwide marketing, Warner Bros. Consumer Products. To further drive the phenomenon home, particularly where consumer products are concerned, Warner Bros. went straight to the source-fans. In the broadest, most comprehensive global research ever commissioned by Warner Bros. Consumer Products, the company embarked upon a "temperature check" of Harry Potter fans, children in particular. In this exclusive interview with Sollitto, who says the reason for the research was "Warner Bros.' responsibility to the magnitude of the Harry Potter phenomenon," he describes the research tactics, what was extracted and learned from the study, and how Warner Bros. will further enhance an already flourishing consumer products program with a new additional program utilizing the artwork of illustrator and (for the most part domestic) Harry Potter book jacket and chapter artist Mary GrandPre (see sidebar, p. 28).

It took six months to conduct the research, which concluded one year ago. A global study that included the U.S. and approximately five to six international countries, the majority of the research was conducted in children's homes, after primary research was conducted online. All research segmented kids by age. According to Sollitto, research moderators first talked informally with kids about their lives, likes, and dislikes, and "in every instance, within six to seven minutes, one of the kids mentioned Harry Potter. So, the kids took us there," explains Sollitto.

So, what was learned? According to Sollitto, two distinct Harry Potter consumer segments exist:

  • Literary Based: This consumer segment skews a bit older (core is a 9-year-old boy or girl, up to age 13; secondary market is readers ages 7 to 8). These are the kids who avidly read and reread Harry Potter books (five times, in some instances). "These are kids you will find hiding under the covers late at night after their bedtime with a flashlight to read Harry Potter," says Sollitto. He adds that this market is well-versed in the "literature, lore, and unique laws and physics that govern the world of Harry Potter." In addition, these kids are "less needy of consumer products; products need to be incredibly faithful and loyal to what occurs in the literature."
  • All Things Harry Potter: This consumer segment skews a bit younger (6- to 7-year-old boy or girl). According to Sollitto, this segment loves Harry Potter literature as much as the literary-based segment, but takes its cues from a broader expression of all things Harry Potter. "The books, movies, DVDs, toys, apparel, this segment describes a broader panoply of Harry Potter," says Sollitto. "Because they are younger, these children don't necessarily dwell on an absolute replica of every unique detail of Harry Potter."

Armed with consumer-focused data, Warner Bros. Consumer Products opted to do the following with its consumer products program for the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and beyond: The film-based or "entertainment" program is skewed to the all things Harry Potter fan, who wants a "broader range of Harry Potter stimuli," says Sollitto. Further, explains Sollitto, while the "entertainment" program remains more film based with visuals from past Harry Potter films and the upcoming release, the consumer products will accommodate the "play patterns" these consumers want: wizardry and magic, as examples. "They want to pretend to be a wizard. And they want Warner Bros. and Mattel to create a product that will allow them to actually levitate. We haven't created that yet," Sollitto jokes. "But we have created wonderful products that replicate similar experiences in real life play patterns." While many of the same licensees from the first two films will move forward with the new program features, Warner Bros. has enlisted new licensees with new products such as the Figural Flying Toys from Fusion Toys, kites from Gayla Industries, trading cards from Artbox, pens that feature Lego mini-figures from CDM Company, and ornaments and water globes from Seasonal Specialties. These licensees are new to the entertainment portion of the program.

New for Warner Bros. Consumer Products is a literary-based consumer products program, with artwork commissioned from Mary GrandPr This program, according to Sollitto, will be smaller in breadth compared with the entertainment program but will feature the "authenticity those kids demand." "We did not take the same kind of poetic liberties with the literary-based consumer as we did with the entertainment-based consumer. The imagery used for the literary program almost walked right out of the book," says Sollitto. As for licensees involved in this program, he explains, "If the licensee is the same for the literary program, it's because that licensee has the capability to design very different products. There are very specific fabrication and product design requirements." Some new licensees and product categories that can be found in the literary-based program include: journals and diaries from Antioch Publishing, collector dolls from Madame Alexander, and ornaments and water globes from Seasonal Specialties. Another example of literary product strategy is an upcoming line from Cap Candy. In addition to past favorites Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, the company will introduce items such as Droobles Best Blowing Gum, Ice Mice, Fizzing Whizbees, Jelly Slugs, and Acid Pops, all of which one might find on the pages of Harry Potter in Diagon Valley or Hogsmeade Village.

Product for both programs will begin to roll into retail this month both nationally and internationally. However, current product for the entertainment-based program features iconic visuals from past Harry Potter movies. Visuals from the new movie will be utilized for product that will roll out in the usual time frame of six to eight weeks prior to the film's release. Sollitto stresses that the strategy for both programs is not distribution driven.

Beyond the additions to the entertainment program and an all-new literary program, Warner Bros. Consumer Products will work closely with its licensees and retailers on specific promotional opportunities. A global promotional partner is not part of the theatrical marketing program going forward. (Coca-Cola's promotional relationship concluded with the second film and video release.) "This property is special and unique enough that it really doesn't warrant a promotional partner. Harry Potter has nearly 100 percent awareness globally; the scores are astounding," says Sollitto.

Warner Bros. will tap into its own media, including HarryPotter.com, Kids WB!, and Cartoon Network for promotional purposes.

There's no near end in sight for Harry Potter. While five of Rowling's Harry Potter books have already been released, there are seven titles in total (at the moment). The fourth Harry Potter film from Warner Bros. is projected for release by holiday '05. And the new consumer products strategy is "driven by consumers who easily describe and define their relationship with Harry Potter," concludes Sollitto. Seems the spell has not been broken.

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