With a pedigree including more than 20 million books circulating in the U.S., worldwide sales topping 30 million and much buzz in the consumer press, Harry Potter is now primed to work his peculiar brand of magic in the merch arena.
Warner Bros. Consumer Products, which landed the coveted worldwide rights to merchandise based on the book series (three titles out now, seven planned in total) and at least two planned features, is now revving its engines for an international back-to-school product launch.
George Jones, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Licensing and Warner Bros. Studio Stores, says the property has what it takes to go long in the merch market, pointing to the book series’ high visibility, its role-playing aspects, its fantastical characters and its broad target demo as key strengths. The strong emotional bond that kids develop with the books and the fact that Potter is shaping up to be one of those rare properties with true dual gender appeal are particularly good signs, he adds (see Q Scores above).
Because the property is white hot, Jones is set on avoiding the Star Wars syndrome with a program that will purposely limit product availability. He says the property received an ‘unprecedented response’ from potential licensees, but Warner Bros. has been careful to choose partners that are more concerned with long-term brand building than pounding out product.
‘We’ve all seen the case where you take what could be a very, very good property and everyone overdoes it and you bury the market,’ he says. ‘To avoid this, we have a unique program planned, in that for the categories that we think could be most susceptible to oversaturation because of the over-appetite of retailers or licensees, we have limited the quantities that can be shipped.’
In a detailed, long-term strategy, Jones has carefully plotted out the release timing for each category in two separate programs, one literary and one based on the Warner Bros. feature Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which was pushed from a summer to fall 2001 release last month.
The artwork for the literary program was still being finalized at press time, but Jones notes that because the book illustrations are somewhat sparse, Warner Bros. is effectively creating the look for many of the characters and gadgets from scratch with the help of Potter author J.K. Rowling. Merchandise for the live-action film will be based on a different style guide than the literary program, and Jones likens the difference between the two programs to the difference between merchandise based on Batman movies and that based on the animated series.
The literary program will kick off first with product available exclusively in WB Studio Stores for back-to-school 2000. This program will include kid apparel, collectibles, school supplies and stationery. The program will then widen somewhat, introducing more gift items, upscale toys, collectible dolls and decorations for holiday 2000. For the Christmas period, Studio Stores will maintain apparel exclusivity, but items in other categories will begin appearing in upmarket and specialty stores. For instance, greeting card licensee Hallmark will launch a line of Potter cards that will be available only in its own stores for holiday, then go mass early in 2001.
In mid 2001, the feature release date will start to loom, and the movie’s advertising and promotions machine, probably anchored by a Burger King kids meal program, will roar to life. Apparel will move into the mid- and mass-market, and the rollout of feature-based product will get underway six to eight weeks before the film’s fall release.
Jones stresses that with seven books in the works and at least two films, Warner Bros. has its sights set on a long-term program. He says that Warner will help to boost the program between the first and second films with a video release and an extensive new media program featuring a line of interactive computer games and Web site activities.
Last February, Warner Bros. took the unusual step of splitting the toys between the big two toymakers, awarding the master to Mattel, but reserving niche items for Hasbro subsidiaries Wizards of the Coast, Tiger Electronics and OddzOn, which includes Cap Candy. Mattel will emphasize technology and innovation with figures and toys based on various gadgets found in the book, while Hasbro’s specialty divisions will do what they do best: Wizards of the Coast will roll out a trading card game with an ad campaign kicking off around October 2000; Tiger Electronics will focus on handheld electronic games, personal radios, recorders, diaries, kids messaging systems and voice changing systems; and Cap Candy will feature ‘interactive’ treats such as magical Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and Spin Pops.
Jennifer Pasanen, marketing VP at U.S. Potter publisher Scholastic, says the property is primed for evergreen status because it has found the right mix of the familiar and the magical. ‘Kids can really identify with Harry as a character,’ she says, ‘because he’s a lot like an ordinary kid, but he’s also this magical hero. I think that speaks to kids’ aspirational sense that they’re special.’ She adds that Scholastic is helping the franchise stay top of mind with a sweeps supporting the July 8 launch of the fourth book, tentatively titled Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament. The 5,000 winners will beat out anticipated lineups at booksellers by getting the title delivered to their doorsteps right on the release date. Pasanen adds that Scholastic will play a role in promotions surrounding the feature release as well, but the details are still being hammered out.
(books & book characters)
boys (6-11): 131
girls (6-11): 121
* Q Scores are indexed to the average score for the category in brackets, with a rating of 100 being average. All scores are provided by Manhasset, New York-based Marketing Evaluations (www.qscores.com), and reflect the rating kids assigned each property on a scale of one to six (from ‘Never seen or heard of before’ through ‘One of my favorites’). Some properties do not have scores listed because scores for those properties are not yet available.