Harry Potter and his friends are, in the film franchise world, entering their sixth year of learning the world of magic and wizardry at Hogwarts. They’ve been through all sorts of trials and tribulations together and, in addition to preparing for exams and such, they’re also preparing for what they feel will be the ultimate showdown with the evil Lord Voldemort and the meeting, by Harry, of what he feels to be his fate.
With each consecutive book, author J.K. Rowling has taken the series incrementally into more mature material and the films have followed suit. The first couple, directed by Chris Columbus, were straight up children’s fantasy material. Light-hearted for the most part and…fluffy. But I recently rewatched the entire series to date, all five films, and found that they drastically improved as the series went on. I engaged in this little marathon shortly after I read all seven books, loaned to me by my sci-fi enabler of a brother-in-law.
Despite my only recent full indoctrination to the Potter world this is the actually the fourth movie I’ve reviewed the marketing campaign for.
In this sixth film installment things are coming to head as the sides are being drawn more clearly in the coming fight against Voldemort. Harry and his friends are on one side and those who have been awaiting Voldemort’s return are on the other, with a good portion of the wizarding world somewhere in the middle, not at all on the side of the forces of evil but also in full denial mode regarding the threats facing them. Amidst all that Harry, Ron, Hermoine and the others are still attending Hogwarts even as they marshall their forces in preparation for the final showdown.
Much – almost all – of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince poster campaign came in waves of one-sheets, each sporting their own look and feel.
The first wave had three posters, one of Dumbledore in the middle of a storm and with wand at the ready for battle, one of Harry in a similar pose and one that’s a close-up of Harry’s face, Dumbledore reflected in the lense of his glasses. These are pretty good and definitely let those who aren’t familiar with the story get a sense of how this movie will be filled with action and life-or-death consequences. For those that do know the story they’ll likely look at these and immediately be able to identify what scene this is meant to portray. Both of those are good things from a marketing perspective.
The second set was more of a traditional set of character one-sheets. Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape and Draco all get their own real estate against a background that’s appropriate for their character. So Harry’s in the Underground surrounded by press clippings, Ron is on the Quiditch field and Snape is in his classroom and so on and so forth. Again, for what they were looking to accomplish these are pretty good and certainly well designed. It shows, if nothing else, that the movie’s storylines have expanded to focus on more of the cast.
The third wave featured some pair ups among that cast. Harry got paired with Dumbledore, Hermione with Horace Slughorn, Ron with one of the girls on the Quiditch team (it might be his sister Ginny, I’m not sure) and Snape with Malfoy. Not only do these posters introduce some new characters to the marketing campaign but it also brings some elements of action into the posters, something that’s going to be important as this story is pretty-action packed, a trend that’s become more prevelant as the films have continued.
Wave four brought more of an element of conflict into the picture but also featured two characters to a poster. This time Harry is with his chief rival at school Malfoy, Dumbledore with Snape and Ron with a werewolf. Hermione is still shown with Slughorn, which is strange since I don’t remember him being a villian in the story. But regardless I think these continue the trend of solid posters that have a direct point to their release in how they are meant to attract the audience and appeal to fans of the franchise.
The final theatrical poster stripped it down to just the four primary good guys, Dumbledore, Harry and his best friends and put them in front of, presumably, London. It’s all very “poised for action” in how everyone is laid out and the fact that they’re in their street clothes communicates to some extent the fact that they’ve moved on some level beyond the schoolhouse. I’m not a huge fan of the “Dark secrets revealed” copy above the credit block simply because it seems a bit to cut and dried, but that’s a small quibble. It’s a striking, well-designed poster – as are the whole batch – and it’s sure to score well with those interested in the movie and the Potter franchise in general.
The movie’s first full trailer was mainly concerned with introducing us to young Tom Riddle. We start off in Dumbledore’s office as he introduces Harry to his collection of memories and invites him to join in the viewing of those memories. We then move into the past, with only brief glimpses of the action that’s happening in the present, mainly in the form of some sort of action sequence.
It’s actually pretty darn effective since this forms the crux of not only this part of the Harry Potter story but the final chapter as well. It’s here that Harry finally gets to know who he’s fighting against. It’s short, but it works. No one other than Harry, Dumbledore and Voldemort get any screen time, but that was sure to be rectified in future trailers so it’s not so much an oversight or slight as it is part of a logical sequence designed to make the movie seem very dangerous before bringing back in other familiar characters.
The second trailer gets a bit deeper into the rest of the movie, with bits from around the entire film’s story. There’s still quite a bit of focus on Dumbledore taking Harry down into the memories he’s collected relating to Voldemort but there’s also quite a bit of interplay between Harry and Hermione, Ron and some of the other students. There’s also a good amount of footage that’s more action-oriented, with scenes from the climactic showdown at the end being obvious as well as some that are pulled from the beginning, when the dark forces of the magical world are wreaking havoc on the Muggle world.
It’s still pretty effective but I actually think the lack of singular focus winds up working against it to a small extent. It comes off as just a tad disjointed since the scenes are not pulled in any sort of linear order but are instead mixed together from throughout the film. Not that it’s bad, it’s just sort of oddly timed in bits and it’s hard to feel a good rhythm being established by it.
The final theatrical trailer starts off by regaining some of that focus, beginning with footage from the quest by Dumbledore and Harry to retrieve one of the items of importance to Dumbledore. From there we transition a bit into the romances that are developing among the major characters and then back to the threats facing our heroes before a brief glimpse into the trip through the memories that forms much of the plot. After that it’s all action sequences as the conflicts that are raising begin to come to a head and lines are more clearly drawn.
It’s probably the most effective of the three since it builds slowly to the climax, setting up some characters that the audience can actual care about before putting them in harm’s way. It’s nicely paced and all that, even if it explains almost nothing about the plot aside from the fact that someone has to do something or a bad thing will happen. But what those exactly are is never laid out by the trailer. Not necessarily a bad thing since the target audience already knows the stakes and the details, but it’s not going to do a lot to make the movie accessible to a larger audience, though that’s probably a lost cause at this point anyway.
The official website opens by playing the third and final trailer. When you Enter the Site that blows itself up and then resolves into the key art, which is where you can access the Menu that brings you to the site’s content.
The first section of this extremely slow to load site is “Video.” All that’s there, though, are the movie’s three Trailers, which is a bit disappointing. “About the Film” just contains a Synopsis that takes two paragraphs to talk about the main points in the film’s plot before moving on to the cast and crew.
The “Gallery” probably contains about three dozen pictures from the movie but it’s hard to tell because they’re floating all over the place and constantly in motion, leaving the screen and the coming back, so it’s hard to pay attention to them and pick out one you might like to look at.
“Downloads” has all the movie’s Posters that you can grab as well as the usual Wallpapers, Buddy Icons and a Screensaver.
“Year Five” takes you to the official site for the fifth movie, Order of the Phoenix, and information on buying it on DVD, Blu-ray or On-Demand. There’s also Wishlist, something that’s been on other Potter movie sites and which is basically just an online catalog of Potter merchandise you can buy.
There’s also a section for the “YouTube Potion Making Contest.” That brings you the movie’s official YouTube page where you can upload a video showing you making your own potion, with the rules asking people to 1) Be themselves and not a Potter character and 2) keep their videos to about 90 seconds.
In addition to the “Standard” experience entrants can choose to submit with the “Augmented Reality” option that adds a 3-D cauldron to the video. The promotion is the first Augmented Reality campaign YouTube has embarked upon, a fact they point out in a blog post about the contest.
The Harry Potter MySpace page is, of course, reflective of the new movie but has just the trailers and a featurette and a gallery of stills. Not much, not at all. The Facebook page isn’t much better, basically just collecting the posters, photos, trailers and TV spots from the movie’s campaign.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV commercials appeared in fits and starts in the April/May timeframe and then kicked into high gear in late May and early June, right about the time you’d expect them to. A few contained new footage but much of it was pulled from previous trailers. Some were focused on the investigation into Voldemort’s past and others were all action and adventure and fast cuts, but all retained the same sort of bleached out look that began in the trailers and, I would assume, is throughout the film. At this point I don’t think they’re going to bring in new audience members but they’re certainly designed to retain the existing audience and I think, by including scenes that are instantly recognizable from the books, they do a good job of just that.
Not all the advertising that included the cast was specifically for the movie. Some was just conveniently-timed advertising for other brands like this one for Burberry that featured Emma Watson. These sorts of things are sort of unofficial tie-ins, with the campaigns designed to not only build off of the hype for the movie and the star’s increased presence in the media but it also winds up having some benefit for the movie as well.
As many big-budget summer extravagances do, Half-Blood Prince got the HBO “First Look” treatment that included some footage from the film as well as interviews with the cast and crew. You can view the whole thing – in two parts – at Rejects.
Media and Publicity
Unfortunately much of the publicity that was generated in the middle of 2008 for the film revolved around Warner Bros.’ decision to move it from the end of last year to the middle of 2009. Little was given in the way of official explanation other than to say it worked better from a scheduling point of view.
The consensus at the time, though, was that the studio was trying to avoid putting too much money in 2008’s bracket. The Dark Knight had been a tremendous success and so, without much in the way of a 2009 blockbuster on deck, save for Watchmen, the studio likely decided to simply share the wealth a bit and make sure that 2009 didn’t look anemic by comparison. It’s not a bad decision, but the motives are pretty clear to see for anyone who’s paying attention. It also left other studios scrambling to take advantage of this new opening or to try and get out of the way of the movie’s new slot.
Earlier this year an exhibit encompassing the film’s props and costumers came to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Items and clothing from all the movies, including this one, were on display as well as partial recreations of many of the main sets like Hagrid’s hut and the Quidditch field. The museum put on demonstrations related to the movie – things like jelly bean tastings to highlight how smell and taste work together and said it would be swapping in new items to the exhibit after the movie opened that it held back so as not to spoil plot points.
The three main cast members also appeared via telecast at the MTV Movie Awards to present new footage from the movie. That clip was largely an extended clip of a scene we’ve already seen in trailers, that of Harry being prompted by Dumbledore to dive into the memory of his, Dumbledore’s, first meeting with a young Tom Riddle.
Some unwelcome news came when it was reported that Harry Potter would not debut on IMAX screens at the same time as it hits screens in general. The two week delay is the result of the film’s summer release date, which falls in the middle of IMAX’s contracted window with Paramount to show Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen exclusively. So while Potter is shown theatrically beginning this weekend it won’t come to IMAX presentation until the end of the month.
As release date got closer more traditional publicity items, like this appearance on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. A lot of the coverage also focused on the increasing role of teenage hormones in the movie’s plots as well as the usual ridiculous “which is your favorite potion” type of Q&A.
There’s a lot to like about the campaign. A lot. I think the posters and trailers are all amongst the strongest that have been created for any of the Harry Potter movies to date and do a good job of making an appeal to both existing die hard fans as well as more casual fans. They don’t do much to bridge the gap to the average summer movie goer, but that’s probably not a fight any marketing campaign would have won no matter how hard they tried. The mythology of the story is just too deep at this point for someone to jump on without having seen – and liked – the five previous installments.
The advertising and publicity components work, even if they do come off as somewhat lacking in “oomph.” I don’t mean they skimped on anything or that they press wasn’t breathless to cover the movie, just that by the sixth movie there’s not a whole lot of new ground to break in the coverage and so there’s nothing all that compelling about the resulting press. Hence a full news cycle being devoted to Radcliffe being interviewed by a Fourth Grader just days before the film’s released.
I’m also not that annoyed by the website. It’s still a bit less user-friendly than the average movie site but it’s not as bad as the sites for some of the previous Potter films so I’ll let it go without too much more comment.
So it’s a good campaign that should provide for some decent performance by the movie this weekend.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 7/17/09: Since we’re all about how social media impacts a movie’s word-of-mouth now it’s only fitting that Mashable looks at how Harry Potter is a social media blockbuster and Steven Zietchek examines what impact Twitter will have on the movie’s box-office.
- 7/17/09: Donna at Lip-Sticking covers the online component of the campaign pretty well, including a deep-dive into some things I only glanced over and an examination of the fan community efforts that I didn’t mention at all.
- 7/17/09: The lack of promotional partners for the Harry Potter movies is on purpose, as this WSJ story says Warner Bros. has intentionally shied away from such deals since they can “cheapen or overexpose the product” and with so many movies in the series the studio doesn’t want to do any damage along either of those lines.
- 8/7/09: MediaPost profiles Avatarlabs, the creative shop that designed and executed some of the online ads for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, including tweaking those ads for deployment around the world.